Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wunkle Wedne...err...Thursday: Rock Lobster!

So Munky Wunkle and I are getting ready to head to our favorite beach this weekend: Sanibel Island, Florida. In tribute to this upcoming adventure, I could have posted one of approximately a zillion photos of Wunkle on various beaches, but while looking through my albums, I stumbled across this forgotten gem from a past vacation.

Because nothing says "vacation" like a big-ass lobster.

Review: July 2014 Charleston Epicurean Box

Today, I found a box on my porch with a distinctive imprint of wrought-iron gates stamped on the front. That's right, friends, it's time for another Charleston Epicurean box!

A refresher: Charleston Epicurean is a subscription service that promises 4-6 gourmet and/or artisanal products each month, locally sourced from the Charleston area. (Here, I must tell you that if you have never been to Charleston, you are missing out on one of the true jewels of the South... except for the fact that I want you to keep reading my blog, I'd tell you to go start planning a trip RIGHT NOW.) June was my first month with Charleston Epicurean, and I wasn't overly in love with that box (review here), but I have been eagerly anticipating my second box of goodies anyway... and now, here it is!

Inside my box, prettily protected with crinkly grassy packing material, I found:
  • Grey Ghost Bakery "Chocolate Espresso" and "Lemon Sugar" cookies (4 cookies, $4.00): Like any sane human being, I do love a good cookie, so I was excited to see these... especially the lemon-flavored ones, because lately I've been on a lemon kick for some reason. Unfortunately, the lemon sugar cookies didn't survive the trip from the Lowcountry to the Bluegrass intact... not like I'd let that stop me, so of course I mooshed together the crumbs a little and ate them anyway. (Afterward, I realized that I should have sprinkled them over some ice cream... when life gives you lemon-flavored cookie crumbs, make a sundae!) For me, they were perfectly serviceable sugar cookies, but I would have preferred a stronger lemon tang. Much to my surprise, I wound up greatly preferring the chocolate espresso variety. I'm actually not a huge chocolate lover, but these cookies had a surprisingly potent cocoa flavor with none of the overdone sweetness of many chocolate cookies, and the hint of espresso beautifully complemented and heightened the chocolate. Both varieties had a tender, crumbly texture that I enjoyed, although I'm sure that didn't help with the shipping! So, would I buy? I'd absolutely buy the chocolate espresso if I found them next time I'm in Charleston... but I didn't find them special enough to order them and pay shipping instead of buying something locally, though, especially given the fact that 50% of them arrived in pieces.
  • Charleston Mix Bold & Spicy Bloody Mary Mix (8 oz., $2.50): I love a good Bloody Mary... but I find that in most cases, I have to do a lot of doctoring to spice them up to my liking. With this mix, however, I don't think I'd have to doctor much at all! Actually, when I first tasted it, I thought it was overly seasoned... but then I realized that it's because I was tasting it straight, not cut with vodka. (What can I say? It's 5:00 somewhere, but not here right now!) It may be just a wee bit too salty for my liking, but I really appreciated the assertive flavors, especially the distinct kick of celery, which is one of my favorite flavors in a really good Bloody. The mix has a certain grittiness from all the included spices... normally I wouldn't say "gritty" and mean it in a positive way, but this time I do. I enjoyed catching and savoring little crunchy bursts of celery seed and black pepper. It has a mysterious hint of complex sweetness beyond what I tend to expect, and a glance at the ingredient list reveals that it can probably be attributed to the inclusion of brown sugar and marjoram... interesting! I was also having a niggling feeling that something was fundamentally different about this mix, and that ingredient list clued me in to what it was: the heat comes from habañero mash instead of the traditional horseradish. I'm not 100% sure that I don't miss the pungency of horseradish, but still, this is a complex, interesting, and potent twist on the Bloody Mary. This sample size is really only enough for one drink (at least if you make a big-ass Bloody Mary like I tend to), and although I would have liked a larger bottle, this size is more than sufficient to make an informed decision about the product. (Side note: these small bottles are available to purchase in quantities of eight, and I think they would make cute gifts, with tiny bottles of vodka attached... perhaps for a bachelor/ette party or something of that type.)  So, would I buy? As with the cookies, this is something that I would definitely buy in Charleston, but probably wouldn't go to the trouble and shipping cost of ordering online... but luckily, that won't be an issue at all, because this product is apparently available to me locally at World Market. Huzzah!
  • Jimbo's Lowcountry Seasoning (2.5 oz, $5.95): When I opened this seasoning blend, it smelled oddly familiar, but I couldn't quite place it. My mother, however, immediately said, "Is that poultry seasoning?" After she said that, it was all I could smell... that earthy, herby sage scent of a November kitchen. One of the entries on the Jimbo's Facebook page talks about mixing this seasoning in with sauteed onion and celery and serving it over rice... and that seems like a pretty perfect use for something that is strongly reminding me of Thanksgiving stuffing. I'm pretty sure this will be good on chicken, but I haven't gotten that far yet. I did, however, mix it into some pasta salad that had turned out a little bland, and it imparted a nice hint of added flavor. Side note: whenever I get around to making an actual Bloody Mary with my remaining Charleston Mix, I'm going to take Jimbo's recommendation to rim the glass with this seasoning. So, would I buy? No, both because it's not particularly unique for me, and because this bottle will probably last me a looooooooong time. (Yes, I'm one of those naughty people who doesn't replace rarely-used seasonings as often as I probably should. I shudder to think how old my current poultry seasoning probably is... but, I mean, it still smells good!)
  • Black Tie Soap Co. Handcrafted Soap in "Citrus Scrub" (4.5 oz., $6.50): To be honest, I normally use liquid soaps because I feel like bar soaps get kind of grotty and icky (technical terms), but I do have a soft spot for handmade artisanal soaps, especially ones with interesting scents. This soap is one that definitely passes muster for me, because the citrus scent is just divine, and as I said earlier about the cookies, I've been grooving hard on all things lemon-scented lately! So, would I buy? Well, maybe... if I could figure out how! I had a near-impossible time tracking down an online presence for Black Tie. First I found an Etsy page, but with no products listed. Then I found the Facebook page linked above, which gives a website link... but that link takes me right back to the Facebook page! Dear Black Tie: if you want the business of non-Charlestonians who are discovering your products in these boxes, it would be good to have a functioning online shop. As much as I'd like to be able to hit you up at the Folly Beach Farmer's Market, that's a hell of a drive for me to get some soap!
  • Charleston Receipts Album ($9.95): Color me surprised when I noticed that something big was peeking out from underneath that crinkly packing grass... a recipe binder based on the classic Junior League cookbook "Charleston Receipts," which I already own and which will be right at home next to this album on my shelf! The tabbed dividers feature recipes from the cookbook, and each section includes plastic sleeves for recipe cards. The included cards, as well as the cover, feature charming artwork by Charleston artist Tate Nation. My only complaint here is that I will most certainly require more recipe cards and plastic sleeves, as there are only a couple in each section, and while both items are available on the Junior League's website, the shipping cost for a few pieces of paper and plastic is rather excessive. So, would I buy? Well, I probably wouldn't buy another binder, but I will most likely end up sucking up the stupid shipping cost and ordering more inserts! My current recipe book is almost full, and this one is just adorable.
So, in summary, let's first look at the math of it all: the dollar value of the box rang up at $28.90. As with my first box, it didn't meet the $33/month cost (per my three-month membership), and at first I found this a little jarring because I'm used to other subscriptions that wind up with a numeric value higher than the price paid... but this time, I find more personal value in the contents, which is more important to me. I will use everything I received, I will definitely see about tracking down the Bloody Mary mix locally, and I'm sure I will enjoy the recipe binder for a long time, so that makes me happy. August will be the last month of the three-month trial I allowed myself, and I'm already curious to see if it will win me over and convince me to continue my subscription!

    Thursday, July 10, 2014

    Mini Mani Review: Rainbow Honey "Sweet Talk"

    The polish that first tempted me to place an order with Rainbow Honey in May was "Sweet Talk." I don't remember where I saw it, I just remember thinking, "Hey, that looks like a jawbreaker, which is kinda fun." So I ordered it, and a Rainbow Honey Mystery Bag... and I played with the mystery bag polishes... and then I ordered some other polishes... and poor little "Sweet Talk" languished on my shelf, neglected.

    Until tonight.

    Shame on me.

    WTF was I waiting for?

    YOU GUYS. I love this polish SO MUCH. SO SO MUCH.

    Never leave me, "Sweet Talk."
    It really does look like a jawbreaker... like fun, happy candy on my fingers, with violet, fuchsia, and icy blue glitter swimming in a milky white base. (There's also the faintest hint of teensy-weensy pink shimmer.) It applies beautifully and the glitter distributes like a dream, with no extra dabbing or dragging needed to get it spread evenly over the nail. The picture above is one coat of "Sweet Talk" over a coat of OPI's "Alpine Snow," with a double serving of Seche Vite top coat to smooth out the bumpiness from the glitter. I think you could build "Sweet Talk" to opacity in three coats with no "undies," but why bother when it's already got such beautiful depth and color in one easy coat?

    Okay, Rainbow Honey. You win. I'm officially your bitch now. What's next?

    Wednesday, July 9, 2014

    Wunkle Wednesday: Grill Master

    Like any good munky should, Munky Wunkle loves the outdoors, so of course he loves camping! He's also a pretty accomplished cook, especially when an open fire is involved. Clearly, though, he has no idea of the proper order a meal should go in, since he insisted on starting his s'more before the burgers were even done.

    Wednesday, July 2, 2014

    Wunkle Wedding-sday

    Munky Wunkle was pretty embarrassed that I revealed him in all his drunken splendor last week, so I figured that for this week's Wunkle Wednesday, I should show that he does know how to behave like a gentlemunky in polite company. He was quite a dapper date for one of my best friend's beach weddings!

    Tuesday, July 1, 2014

    Birchbox June 2014 Review: "Away We Go"

    So for some reason, despite the fact that this is my very first Birchbox ever, I failed to do any good documentation of it before using up the contents of half of the items. I did manage to snap just a couple of poorly-lit photos before deciding to procrastinate, so there's that, at least. For informational purposes: much like my Ipsy subscription, Birchbox is a monthly shipment of 4-6 makeup, skincare, and haircare samples that costs me $10. Birchbox, however, apparently tends to include smaller samples from higher-quality brands, where Ipsy tends to send out larger or full-sized samples from lower-end brands. It seems to me that there might be a place in my life for both subscription services, so I'm going to give Birchbox a few months and see what I think.

    Here be Birchbox.
    Before we delve into the contents, I do have to say that I hate how wasteful Birchbox's packaging is. The goodies arrive in this perfectly serviceable box... which is packaged inside ANOTHER box. Come on now.

    Because I neglected to take photos of the individual items as I usually do, you're just going to have to follow along in the above picture... I trust that you can figure out which item is which. On to the reviews!
    • Davines Love Smoothing Shampoo (sample bottle, valued at  $7.50) and Smoothing Conditioner (foil packet, valued at $1.40): First, let me address the good about these samples... the shampoo is a very nice size. It annoys me when a sample is too small to see how the product performs over a little time, and the shampoo bottle definitely has a good amount of uses in it. Unfortunately, I can't say the same of the accompanying conditioner, which came in a dinky foil packet from which I was able to get approximately 1.5 uses. The scent is extremely off-putting to me; it smells a LOT like the foaming tub cleaner I use, and that's definitely not something I want wafting off my head. And despite the fact that these products are billed as being for dry and frizzy hair, I found that my already-dry hair felt noticeably more straw-like after using them. To be fair, I continued using the shampoo after the conditioner ran out, and it cleans my hair acceptably, but I'm following it up with my usual conditioner, so I can't speak to its solo smoothing performance.
    • Davines OI All in One Milk (foil packet, valued at $0.83): I just don't have anything good to say about this item, y'all. Foil packets are always disappointing, although to be fair, this one had a solid few uses in it. I just find it unsanitary to keep an open foil packet for multiple uses... give me something I can re-seal, dang it! Scent: although this doesn't have the same tub-cleaner smell of the previously-mentioned Davines products, it's still not a scent that I like at all. And of course, there's the performance... or lack thereof. I didn't notice any improvement in my hair's texture after using this, although at least it didn't weigh my hair down or make it look oily like this type of product often does on me.
    • Suki Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser (sample jar, valued at $1.65): Face wash is not something that I normally spend money on, because it's literally on your face for ten seconds and then rinsed away. I put the big bucks toward the moisturizers and whatnot, because they're actually on your face for the long haul. I'm not sure that any product will ever change my thinking on that... but this one comes pretty damn close! Actually, if not for the hefty price tag, I probably would have ordered a full size of this already. For some reason I've been grooving hard on lemon-scented things lately, and this has a lovely lemongrass scent. (I do have to say that I wasn't completely impressed by the exfoliation, but I think that's probably because I was using tiny amounts to make the sample last longer.)
    • LAQA & Co. Sheer Lip Lube Pencil in "Bee's Knees" (sample size, valued at $9): First of all, did they really need to put "lube" in the name? There's no situation in which that word doesn't conjure up icky connotations, not even taking a car to Jiffy Lube. But I digress. I'm not sure what I think of this product, but I can't swear that my issues with it aren't just a function of the color being too light for me. I love a good coral lip, but this shows up as a pale peach on me. It's lighter than both my natural lip color and my skin tone, which is not a good look. And I feel like it settles into and accentuates the lines in my lips, but that might not be an issue if the color didn't already look so jarring on me. It's got a pleasant minty scent and a bit of a tingle, which I like, and it feels like a lip balm. I actually wish I'd gotten the purplish shade that some other subscribers received... and I may still have a chance at one, because I will be receiving another one of these from Birchbox. You see, this one arrived with most of the product broken off and stuck up inside the cap, so I sent an email and a picture to Birchbox's customer care, and promptly received a reply promising a replacement item. Good service!
    •  Harvey Prince "Hello" Perfume (sample vial, valued at $1): Ugh, perfume. I am NOT a fan of perfume samples, because for some reason most perfumes tend to react badly with my body chemistry. I've found a couple that work for me, and I don't stray often. This one, while pleasant-smelling enough, is not going to make it into my rotation... too floral for me. (I'm not a connoisseur who can pick out the individual components of a scent, so I'll raid Birchbox's description for the specifics: Meyer lemon, Satsuma mandarin, summer forsythia, and pink plumeria.) 
    •  Egyptian Magic Skin Cream (sample jar, valued at $2.37): Magic? That's big talk. For me, the jury's still out on this product's magical powers. It's all-natural, which I guess is nice, and reminds me very much of the coconut oil I use on my hair (solid at room temperature, melts down on contact with body heat). It's unscented, which I actually don't love, but hey, at least it's not a scent I dislike. I'm throwing this little guy into my purse for use on my dry hands and rough cuticles, so we'll see about this "magic" business.
    (I also received a bonus item, I guess as a welcome gift? Anyway, it's a sample tube of Cynthia Rowley Beauty Creamy Lip Stain in "Sugar," which is a nudey-rose shade that bores the crap out of me. This one's staying sealed and going off to the ol' trade list.)

    So, my first Birchbox. I actually didn't realize how completely underwhelming it was until I started writing this review! From a dollar standpoint, everything (sans the extra lip product) adds up to $23.75. This is a lower value than I'm used to from Ipsy, where the tally is generally closer to $40. Still, an acceptable numeric return on my $10 investment... plus, what Birchbox lacks in up-front value, it makes up for with its points system! For every item I receive and review on the website, I get ten points, which basically equates to a dollar to spend in the Birchbox shop. So this month, for example, I received seven items that were eligible for review points, which adds up to $7 I can eventually spend in the shop! Birchbox's shop includes all kinds of items, from cosmetics to home decor, and includes popular brands like Benefit as well as highly-rated Birchbox exclusives like Beauty Protector. In addition to review points, subscribers get a point for every dollar spent on products in the shop, so I can see how points could add up quickly. We shall see, over a few months, if the points system helps to balance out underwhelming boxes like this one.

    If you feel compelled to join Birchbox after reading this review, please feel free to clicky-clicky here to sign up using my referral link. (Another way to get those wonderful points!)

    Friday, June 27, 2014

    Wunkle Wednesday, Friday-Style

    Since I'm failing at this "posting the Wednesday thing on Wednesday" business, I figured I should choose a Friday-appropriate photo of Munky Wunkle. He's generally a pretty well-behaved little guy, but every so often, he has one of those weekends where he winds up worshipping the porcelain god. What can I say? He can't hold his liquor.

    Thursday, June 19, 2014

    The Thursday Three: Lip Balm Edition

    So I'm thinking that if I include more weekly features on this blog, it will force me to start posting more regularly. In that vein, I'm introducing "The Thursday Three," a weekly round-up of three... somethings. Really, this will encompass pretty much anything that I can neatly corral into sets of three, probably with a focus on my favorites in any given category. I think I can stick with this, because at the very least, I can surely come up with a weekly list of three items even if I don't elaborate about them at length, right?

    For this first Thursday Three, we're going to delve into my plethora of lip balms. Lip balm is one product that I can't function without, and I feel like I'm constantly on the prowl for my "holy grail" product. My lips tend to chap, especially in the winter, and I  can't stand the feeling or the look of dry, icky lips. At any given time, I've probably got at least five lip balms in rotation between my makeup drawer, my purse, and work. Minimum. Along the way, I've stumbled across a few products that really made me happy, so I'm sharing them with you!

    I stumbled across this drugstore gem while on vacation in Florida, and I just adore it. It's the most "traditional" balm of the bunch, a twist-up solid stick, nothing special about the packaging. This balm's got a couple of things going for it that distinguish it from the glut of similar stick balms, though... first, the high SPF, which I dig. You see, not only do I want to protect my lips from the sun, I also have a relatively recent and large scar on my left leg that requires extra sun protection if I want it to fade as much as possible over time. So because I am kind of tacky, I have been known to use this product on my scar too; I feel like it's more effective than traditional sunscreen because the waxiness of it clings to the scar area longer, especially on the beach or in the water!

    The other thing that I really love about this lip balm is the FLAVOR. It smells like the most delicious tropical sunscreen, which alone would have made me like it, but it also tastes amazing... like a fruity, delicious piña colada or some other tropical drink that would come with a little paper umbrella. The flavor lasts a good while, too, unlike a lot of products that lose their flavor rapidly after application. As far as moisturizing my lips, it does a perfectly fine job; I mean, I don't feel like angels are dancing on my lips or anything, but it's more than adequate in the dryness-prevention department. The only complaint I have about this product is that it's hard to find in stores here in my landlocked state... so I stocked up when I went back to the beach a few months later! (It's readily available online, though, and I'm just a brat about paying shipping charges.) 

    I received this item back in my January Ipsy bag, which was full of skincare products that I thought would be totally boring. Boy, was I wrong! I ended up really digging the contents of that bag, especially this lip balm! The squeezy tube is super-nondescript, although I grudgingly guess I get the hipster vibe they're going for with the design. To my eye, though, it just looks medicinal, like a tube of antibiotic ointment... not like something epic to put on your face, which is what it actually is. I also hate that the application surface is a flat top instead of a more lip-friendly angled or rounded one, but honestly, I usually end up applying with my finger anyway.

    Once opened, the product itself also looks pretty underwhelming at first glance: a clear, kind of thin-seeming gel formula. Don't be fooled, though, because it turns into moisturizing awesomeness on the lips. It leaves a nice little hint of shine and lasts a really long time. The only reason this lip balm isn't at the top of the list: the flavor (or lack thereof). It's perfectly fine, but it's just a very subtle and short-lived hint of mint, with none of the lime tartness that I'd expect from something named "mojito." Step up the flavor game, Malin+Goetz, and I'll de-throne my current #1 for you.

    I've actually already reviewed this delightful product once on this blog, but it more than deserves another shout-out, because it's earned the top spot on my list and in my makeup bag. I don't want to repeat myself ad nauseum, so you can clicky-clicky here to read that full review, or you can just stick around and roll with my CliffsNotes. Pros: ginormous size for the very reasonable price, smells and tastes like orgasmic syrupy waffle-y deliciousness, moisturizing as all get-out, swanky packaging. Cons: um, the tin can be a little hard to open sometimes? Recommendation: GET SOME, and check out TokyoMilk's other flavors while you're at it.

    So there you have it, folks: my first Thursday Three. If you're actually a real, live human being who is actually reading my blog, please leave me a little feedback or a suggestion on what categories you might like to see me tackle. I'd welcome the challenge (and the confirmation that someone actually sees this crap I write)!

    Wednesday, June 18, 2014

    Wunkle Wednesday(-ish): Lake Treasure!

    So I was just making potato salad to take on my upcoming weekend trip to the lake with my wolfpack, and I realized I'd forgotten to post a Wunkle Wednesday photo. Eh, I'm only two hours late in Eastern time, and it's still Wednesday on the West Coast... it could be worse. Anyway, given that this lake trip is why I was late, I figured a lake photo of Wunkle would be appropriate for today!

    "Looky what I found!"
    We were wandering along at water's edge, and found a patch of shale bits that were just perfect for skipping on the water. While my human companion and I competed at skipping rocks (with me failing miserably, as usual), Wunkle stumbled across an arrowhead at water's edge! At first we thought it must be just an arrowhead-shaped piece of shale, given that there was quite a bit of shale in the vicinity, but on closer inspection, you can still see the marks of the human effort that went into shaping it. Lucky little munky, finding such a cool souvenir of our trip!

    Thursday, June 12, 2014

    Mini Mani Review: Rainbow Honey "Petit Four"

    Another day off, another polish job... this time, it's Rainbow Honey's "Petit Four" from the May Mystery Bag. Of the three polishes included in the bag, this was the only one I was sure I'd love. I really like the look of these "milky" polishes, how the layers of glitter create depth in them, and I love happy yellow shades, so I was pre-sold on this creamy yellow color with pink, red, and teal matte glitter bits.

    It's like candy on my nails... only, y'know, not edible.
    I apologize for the photo... I found this polish extremely hard to photograph! Bright indoor light, outdoor sunlight, I tried it all... most attempts at photographing it washed the yellow out and made it look pretty flat. This shot, indirect light from a window, is the closest approximation I could get. If I'm going to stick with this, I guess I'll have to come up with a light box or some sort of better set-up for these shots. (Maybe once I know I've got enough readers to make the expense and effort worthwhile... hint hint, clue clue, please drop me a comment if you stop by so I know I'm not just typing to myself!)

    My one complaint about this polish is that I found it clumpy and hard to work with. In all fairness, I am pretty new to the realm of indie glitters like this, so I don't know how much of this is due to my noob status. I've heard that there can be a bit of a learning curve in terms of working with these types of polishes, so I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, and I could see myself buying it in the future if Rainbow Honey does end up adding it to their line-up. Anyway... the yellow was kind of sheer, and took three coats to build to opacity; I think next time I might try it with a yellow base so it doesn't have to be built up quite so thickly. A healthy helping of Seche Vite top coat, and it was good to go. Despite the application woes, I'm enjoying this one... can't stop admiring my nails!

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

    Wunkle Wednesday: Cerveza en la Playa

    My previous post about a nail polish that reminded me of the Turks and Caicos got me to daydreaming about my past Caribbean vacations, so I figured that was a good jumping-off point for today's Wunkle Wednesday post. This particular photo is from the Money Bar, a lovely little beach club in Cozumel. Wunkle enjoyed our afternoon there, but was very disappointed to find that they didn't serve Corona, which he was wanting in order to create his own version of that company's beachy ads.

    After his initial dismay, he decided to settle for some Dos Equis instead... and frankly, I think the green bottle is much prettier than a Corona bottle would have been! Hey, Dos Equis, Munky Wunkle wants you to know that he's available when you decide to get rid of that old dude spokesman.

    "The Most Interesting Munky in the World."
    Munky Wunkle says, "Stuffed monkeys don't always drink beer, but when they do, they prefer Dos Equis. Stay thirsty, my friends!"

    Mini Mani Review: Rainbow Honey "Waves"

    So in my previous review of Rainbow Honey's May Mini Mystery Bag, I seem to recall stating that I probably wouldn't use the included polish called "Waves," because I don't like blue polishes. Well, words = eaten. Last night I decided to try it out before sending it off to the trade bin, and I actually like it quite a bit.

    Two coats, topped with Seche Vite, outdoors, cloudy.
    As I said in that aforementioned review, the only thing that made me think I might not hate this polish was the greenish cast that reminded me of swimming in the shallow seas around the Turks and Caicos. On my nails, two coats turn into a turquoise shimmer that does, indeed, look like the prettiest waters the Caribbean has to offer.

    Which reminds me... is it time for another cruise yet?
    I did find the formula a little gloopy, but not terribly hard to work with, and it went on opaque in two coats, without leaving the streaks that so often bug me in polishes of this type. I'm definitely enjoying the shiny little vacation on my fingertips! If I had longer nails, I might even try my hand at a little beach-style nail art with this.

    Side note: this is my first time sharing my stubby, pitiful little nails with you, dear reader. Please have mercy on them, they do try so hard to be pretty! I also can't figure out how other bloggers hold their bottles so gracefully for photos, with all their nails perfectly lined up on display, and without their fingers looking like little bent-up sausages. I'm working on it, I promise!

    Sunday, June 8, 2014

    Review: June 2014 Charleston Epicurean Box

    Ah, Charleston. My best friend moved to the Holy City a few years back, and every time I visit her, it gets a little harder to come back to the Bluegrass. I've been known to spend entire days just wandering South of Broad, taking pictures of window boxes overflowing with flowers and the city's traditional wrought-iron gates... kayaking on Shem Creek... watching the amazing artistry of the sweetgrass weavers at the City Market... breathing in the scent of the Confederate jasmine in my bestie's backyard... burying my toes in the sand at Breach Inlet... and dear baby Jesus, the food!

    Munky Wunkle really enjoys exploring Charleston's military history. Fort Moultrie, I think? Or maybe the Battery...
    I've recently discovered the world of subscription boxes, so when I stumbled across the brand-new Charleston Epicurean box, I knew I had to check it out. Charleston Epicurean promises "the best of local Charleston food and artisanal style," which rings all my bells as a lover of the Lowcountry, culinary goodness, and unique little finds. I signed up for a three-month subscription, and my first box has arrived (lightning-fast shipping, I might add). Let's dig in, y'all!

    First up: the stamp on the box itself. I love a couple of things about this... first, the wrought-iron gate design, which I didn't notice features a fork until I was writing this review! Clever design indeed. I also like the little extra personalized touch a stamp lends, as opposed to a pre-printed box or label. Inside the lid of the box was an attractive insert with a little blurb about each item, an inclusion that I appreciate.

     And now, on to the contents...
    • The New Primal Spicy Grass-Fed Beef Jerky (2 oz., $7.59): I'm a selective jerky eater; I've disliked more kinds than I've liked, but I've been known to find certain types that float my boat. I tend to enjoy teriyaki-flavored jerky, so I was excited to see that this jerky is flavored with tamari and ginger, and sweetened with honey and pineapple juice. It's made from grass-fed beef... here I must admit that my carnivore palate is not refined enough to distinguish between cows, but for those who can tell the difference, there ya go. I also prefer a moist jerky as opposed to the über-tough, overly dry variety, and this jerky has a touch of tenderness that I appreciate. The New Primal is not joking when they call this jerky spicy... and that's the downside of it for me. I like a good tingle of heat, but this is "get me a glass of milk RIGHT FREAKIN' NOW" spicy for me, and I didn't even make it through an entire strip before my tongue was protesting. Those with mightier strength against food-fire may enjoy this, but I have to take a pass. So, would I buy? Not the spicy kind, but I do find myself curious about The New Primal's Trail Packs that blend jerky, nuts, and dried fruit.
    • Mike's Famous Original Deep Fried Peanuts (8 oz., $4.00) I have to admit to feeling an instant twinge of disappointment when I spotted these peanuts in the box, because I immediately thought of boiled peanuts, which, in my opinion, are one of the South's greatest culinary failings. Thankfully, these fried specimens are infinitely more palatable than their slimy boiled counterparts. The deep-frying process makes the shells easily chewable with a pleasant bit of crunch, which also makes these peanuts much less messy to eat since they don't have to be shelled (always a bonus). I received the "Salted" variety, but the salting was very light, and I could have done with a bit more seasoning. (Mike's also offers a variety of other flavors, including Old Bay and Cinnamon Sugar, which sound more interesting than plain old salted.) So, would I buy? Hmm... I suppose I might try some of Mike's other flavored peanuts if I stumbled across them, but I wouldn't go out of my way. There are other salty snacks that I just like better than peanuts, and there's nothing mind-blowingly different about them when they're fried, except that the shell becomes more easily edible.
    • Charleston Favorites Charleston Red Rice (8 oz., $4.95): This dish is a Lowcountry classic that can be prepared as a side dish, or bulked up with some sausage or seafood to make a meal of it. The mix is very simple: rice, sun-dried tomatoes, and dried onion... I'm a little skeptical, because bacon doesn't come into play either in the mix or in the additional ingredients called for in the recipe on the bag (except as a garnish), and pork fat is a pretty traditional component of this dish. Not to go all Emeril on you or anything, but pork fat rules! I'll probably wind up sneaking some into this when I prepare it. Side note: I'm generally terrible at cooking rice, because I always manage to burn the bottom of it, so here's hoping I can break the streak this time! I think this will also provide an opportune moment to finally bust out the Charleston Rice Spoon I received as a gift when I became a supporter of Charleston's Drayton Hall. (If you haven't been to Drayton Hall, it's worth a visit as an interesting counterpoint to the other area plantations.) Also, how stinkin' cute is that teeny-tiny Tabasco bottle tied on with a bow? So, would I buy? Jury's out on this one for the time being.
    • Olde Colony Bakery Benne Wafers (5 oz., $3.99): I'm a bit ashamed to admit that in all the times I've been to Charleston, I'd never gotten around to trying a benne wafer. Benne wafers are a mainstay of Charleston cuisine rooted in East Africa; "benne," or sesame, was first brought to America in the days of the slave trade (a sad but fascinating part of Charleston's history). Despite their origin, eating benne wafers is actually supposed to bring GOOD luck, so maybe I should go buy a lottery ticket, because I can't stop nibbling on these crispy little nuggets of deliciousness! These toothsome wafers hit a beautiful balance of salty and sweet, with a delicate nutty flavor from the sesame seeds, a touch of caramel depth, and a really satisfying crunch... the closest flavor comparison I can come up with is some serious bomb-diggity peanut brittle, but that doesn't really do them any justice. So, would I buy? In a heartbeat, and I'm also super-curious about some of the other confections available on the website... Pecan Peachies? Leila's Lemon Snaps? Razzberry Sassies? Yep, this will probably warrant a visit to the Olde Colony Bakery next time I'm in town.
    • Blackjack Barbecue Dry Rub (5 oz., $4.95): Okay, please don't revoke my Southern citizenship, but I am really just not a fan of 99% of the barbecue genre. (Disclaimer: before you run me out of town on a rail, please know that of the barbecue dishes I have liked in the past, darn near all of them were of the Carolina vinegary mustard-based variety.) Anyway, given my general barbecue-related disdain, as soon as I laid eyes on this spice blend, I was planning on passing it on to my dad. First, though, I cracked it open to take a perfunctory sniff for reviewing purposes... and then I had to take a little taste... and now I think I'll need to keep it and try it on some chicken soon! While the ingredient list doesn't really contain anything unexpected in a barbecue blend (chili powder, paprika, cayenne, etc.), the garlic flavor is more potent than in a lot of other blends, so since garlic is like crack to me, I'm kind of digging it. Also, I don't detect any cumin, which is a flavor note I just don't like, so that's a check mark in the "pro" column. So, would I buy? Jury's out... I mean, I kind of doubt it, since I've got other garlicky seasonings that I love, but I have been surprised before!
    • Artistic Aperture Charleston Letters Photo (~$5.00?): First, please do your best to ignore the big white oval that's censoring my last name... not that I think you're going to become an obsessed blog fan and stalk me down, but still. Anyway, I'm no stranger to this whole "architectural letters" thing; I'd actually seen them before in several Charleston-area shops, although I don't think those were by this particular individual. (I've also seen them here in my hometown of Louisville, which means that they lose some of their Charlestonian uniqueness in my eyes.) I do think that the idea is clever enough, but the execution here leaves a bit to be desired. In her "About Me" section, the photographer describes herself as an amateur, and it does show; some letters are represented MUCH more effectively than others. Anyway, the item included here is a 4x6" glossy print that spells out "HOME" and is personalized with my last name. It's not to my taste, but my mother liked it and immediately snatched it up for herself. Given my druthers, I'd much rather have had a single-letter print of my initial, which would suit my more graphic tastes. Oh, and for the record, I'm estimating the value of this item based on the website's stated price of $4.00 for a 4x6" print, plus a dollar for the extra smidgen of time it took to type in my last name. So, would I buy? No... it's just not my jam.
    Overall, this first Charleston Epicurean experience was a mixed bag (mixed box?) for me. The value of the box rings in at $31.48, give or take a bit for my estimate on the photo print. I signed up for a three-month subscription for $99 (shipping included), which works out to $33 a month (a single month is $35), so from a dollar-for-dollar standpoint, did I get my money's worth? Not quite. But as with most subscription boxes, part of the value is in the experience. I may not have been thrilled with everything in the box, but I'll pass my unloved items on to someone who will enjoy them... and regardless, I definitely got a taste of the Lowcountry that I love! This may sound silly, but I think part of the reason I'm not in love with this box is that to me, it somehow seemed to skew "masculine." In fact, if I hadn't opened almost everything to try, this box would have made a pretty solid Father's Day gift next week! The May box (which I sadly missed out on) seemed much more "me" with the inclusion of more confections and little toiletries, and I hope to see some more bits and bobs like those in my upcoming boxes.

    If you're interested in checking out Charleston Epicurean for yourself, the subscription page can be found here. While I realize that my review of this particular box wasn't exactly glowing, I do want you to know that I'm not at all disappointed in my choice to subscribe, and I'm absolutely looking forward to seeing what surprises my next two boxes have to offer as Charleston Epicurean continues to grow!

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    Wunkle Wednesday: Gone Golfing

    So for a hot minute, a few years back, I dated a guy who was an avid golfer, and therefore I felt the need to try to learn the art of golfing. I stuck with it for a while, and I actually wasn't half-bad... but Munky Wunkle was better. Here he is, trying to line up the perfect putt.

    Look at that laser focus!
    That guy, who actually thought Wunkle's photos were hilarious and invited him along on our very first date (where this photo was taken), made wood carvings as a hobby. He later whittled Wunkle his own munky-sized golf club. True story.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2014

    The First Wunkle Wednesday!

    So since he's on the banner and in the blog title and all, I figure it's probably time to introduce you to Munky Wunkle. Wunkle is, as you may have deduced, a stuffed monkey. I'm not really positive how he came to be in my possession; he just turned up in the back of my SUV one day many moons ago. I think he must have fallen out of a load of stuff I hauled to Goodwill for someone, and gotten tucked up under the seat or something. In any case, he languished in there for a long time... and then one day, my boyfriend (at the time) and I were on vacation. We'd vacationed in the same place four or five times at that point, and every time we took the same pictures of us in the same places, and I was bored. So when we went to visit a nearby lighthouse, I grabbed the monkey out of the backseat and took his picture instead. And thus, the legend of Munky Wunkle was born.

    Munky Wunkle at the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light. He really likes lighthouses.
    It's not a very good photo... I hadn't yet mastered the fine art of stuffed monkey photography, so you can see my thumb holding him. I've come a long way since this photo, and now this little guy has become my version of Travelocity's "Roaming Gnome," stowing away in my travel tote bag and posing for all kinds of photos. He's even been places that I've never gone, because he's taken a couple of trips with my wackier friends. Can you believe this little shit has been to Paris, and I haven't? Le sigh. In any case, dear reader, you'll be able to enjoy Wunkle's travels every Wednesday, when I'll be sharing some of his greatest hits, and I'll also bring you new adventures whenever I get a chance to take a trip!

    Sunday, May 25, 2014

    May 2014 Ipsy Bag Review: "Fresh Picks"

    Another month, another Ipsy bag in my mailbox. But wait! This month, there were actually two bags in my mailbox. That's right... since Ipsy bags contain 4-5 items out of a larger array of possible products (26 items total for May), and since I have tended not to receive the items I wanted the most in past months, I decided to sign up for a second bag in hopes of receiving a wider variety of the available items. A little over-the-top? Perhaps. But better for you, dear reader? Again, perhaps... but not so much for this month, because I ended up getting multiple duplicate items. Le sigh.

    Bag #1, in which I blow your mind with my amazing powers of camouflage.
    So since I recently discovered the joy of using my stash of craft papers as backdrops for my photos, I was happy to dig this print up. But then I discovered its fatal flaw... it goes so well with May's "Fresh Picks" vine-printed bag that the bag is practically invisible! It amuses me, though, to make you play a wee bit of "Find the Bag." It's there, I promise. (Side note: I just noticed that this also flows nicely with my blog's background. Mind = blown.)

    Okay, fine. Here's the bag.
    The bag itself, as per usual, earned mixed reactions from me; I like the print, minus the standard "ipsy" logo incorporated into it, but was disappointed that the print is only on one side. The bag is made from a nubby burlap sort of fabric, which is a refreshing change... but I could see it getting stained up very easily.

    Bag #2's contents, duplicates and all.
     Before I delve into reviewing the products, I'd like to take a moment to raise a little hell about Ipsy's shipping. It's included in the $10 price, which yay, but they ship via DHL, which I have discovered is the CRAPPIEST SHIPPING SERVICE EVER. It is so appallingly slow that I almost wish they didn't send tracking numbers, because it's excruciating to watch my packages travel to Georgia only to languish there for days, then get stuck in Hebron, Kentucky, for another ridiculously excessive amount of time before finally being transferred to the USPS and reaching me in Louisville. And then this month! Two Ipsy bags, both shipped at the same time, traveled together all the way to Hebron, but then were transferred to the USPS three days apart! To be fair, in this case, it was actually kind of nice to get my little treats on two different days instead of all at once, but still. How does that make any sense? I wish Ipsy would switch to a more reliable shipping service.

    Anyway, let's get on to the important stuff, shall we? I'll admit that I wasn't looking particularly forward to either of my bags, and in fact was having a little buyer's remorse about signing up for that second bag, because I didn't find any of the available options terribly exciting. As with January's Ipsy bag, this month's selections were very skincare-heavy, which isn't nearly as fun as getting pretty colored things. The only item I really wanted from Ipsy's sneak peeks was a Too Faced bronzer, and clearly that's not in either of the above photos. Boo. Hiss. And then when I saw I'd be receiving duplicates of three items, the bloom was definitely off the rose. As usual, though, at least one item pulled through to make my subscription worthwhile!

    In both bags, I found:
    • Jersey Shore Sun Sans Tan Anti-Aging Sunscreen with SPF 35 (deluxe sample, valued at $10.00): So sunscreen is always a good thing in my book, because I am a grown-up who does grown-up things like putting on high SPF (usually) and not using SPF 2 oil (anymore). I wasn't particularly enthused about getting these small sample sizes, because I am of the "slather it on and re-apply often" school of thought, so this tiny tube would probably not last a day with me. I also found the price off-putting, because I am not opposed to buying the industrial-sized vat of No-Ad, and I consider buying Hawaiian Tropic for the smell to be a "splurge" in the realm of sunscreen. So, unless Jersey Shore Sun's SPF is SPF-ier than any other SPF, I see no reason to spend that much money on something people won't even be able to see on me. Except... THEY CAN SEE IT ON ME. The bottle says "Pure White Mineral Sunscreen" as though that's a good thing, but it left an unappealing pallor on my skin (see ghost wrist below), which I'm pretty sure was not the goal. I was able to dissipate the white sheen with a crap-ton of rubbing, but frankly, that makes me worry that it has to be spread too thinly in order to disappear on me. No thanks. I'll pass these along to one of my fair-skinned friends, and go back to soaking in the No-Ad.

    •  Pacifica Mineral Eyeshadow Duo in "Duo 1" (valued at $4.45): These duos appear to be exclusive to Ipsy, since Pacifica's eyeshadows are currently all in quad form, so I calculated the value based on shadow weight. Two color options were available, and I was really hoping to get one of each, so of course I got two of the same one. Oh well, off to my little sale/trade box with one of them! I wasn't expecting much from these shadows, because the colors looked pretty bland in photos, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much better they are in person. The golden shade, "Celestial," is a nice "my eyelids but shimmery" color that will come in handy for neutral but pretty work makeup, and the other shade, "Opal," looks like a blah pale beige in the pan but applies with a pretty pink sheen... opalescent, if you will, so I guess it's not just a clever name. Opal is a little powdery, but not too bad. The main issue I had with this product is the cheapness of the compact; upon opening it, the lid popped right off when I pushed it just a little further back than vertical. It didn't break, so I was able to snap it right back on, but still. A little dinky, Pacifica, especially when I'm used to your products having impeccably beautiful packaging. I doubt I'll buy these in the future, only because I already have plenty of eyeshadows and some higher-quality neutrals in the same vein, but I wouldn't throw them out of bed either. I will, however, most likely use the Pacifica promo code to buy more completely unneeded smelly-goods, at which Pacifica absolutely excels.

    •   Hey Honey Take It Off! Exfoliating Peel-Off Mask (deluxe sample, valued at $7.00): This may sound ageist or something, but I'm generally not a fan of peel-off masks, because they just seem juvenile to me... something I used as a pre-teen because they were fun to try to peel off in big pieces, not something I'd choose to use as an adult. That's probably silly of me, but it's just how I roll. Also, this is another sample that I think is too small. I'm not trying to whine, but in terms of skincare products, I feel like a sample should be large enough for multiple uses in order to see how it performs on one's skin over time. I'll be lucky to get two full uses out of one tube. This sample is so small that there wasn't even room on the back to print instructions... instead, it directs users to the Hey Honey website. Funny. Anyway, this mask is a chemical exfoliant featuring alpha hydroxy acid... and upon reviewing said instructions, I have to say I found it odd that users are supposed to put moisturizer on *before* applying the mask. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that treatments like this would work better on a clean face, so I found myself worried that the AHA was going to burn like a mofo. Anyway, it's a thick, clear gel that goes on without much of a noticeable scent at all. Slathered it on... waited... and peeled. Amazingly, unlike the peel-off masks of my youth, this one came off in more or less one giant piece, leaving only a few little scraps that had to be cleaned up. (And some of that was user error... stupid eyebrows getting in the way.) Followed up with some moisturizer, and my skin did feel tightened and a little refreshed, although no visible difference. Since I've got two tubes, that should equal four to maybe five uses, but I doubt I'll re-buy after that unless my skin suddenly starts absolutely glowing, because I'm generally happy with the physical exfoliants I currently use.
    "Don't call me honey, honey!"  -Pierce Hawthorne

     Okay, enough with the duplicate items! Hopefully next month, I'll get a better variety of products. When signing up for Ipsy, you fill out a quiz about your beauty habits and preferences, so I've gone back and tried to make sure that there's no overlap between my quiz answers for the two subscriptions. Fingers crossed... but if my bags are dupe-y again, I'll be canceling the second one. Now, let's move on to the items that were unique to each bag.

    • Pur-lisse Pur-Moist Hydra-Balance Moisturizer (deluxe sample, valued at $16.18): While 20-something me would have scoffed at the high price of this moisturizer, then maybe slapped some random body lotion on my face if it felt particularly itchy, 30-something me has become completely okay with the concept of spending exorbitant amounts of money on skincare. I'm very accustomed to people guessing that I'm somewhere in my 20s and being shocked when I reveal my age, and I want to keep it that way as long as possible. I'm not going to pop the seal on this sample yet, because I JUST cracked open some expensive-ass creams from Skyn Iceland that I bought myself as one of my rewards for quitting smoking, so I'm going to keep this little guy to try the next time I'm traveling.

    I hate the lower-case affectation. Capitals are your friend!
    • Avene Thermal Spring Water (deluxe sample, valued at $9.00): My first reaction to this: "WATER IN A CAN? You have GOT to be shitting me." I know I used this reference in a past Ipsy review, but to me, this product is really like "The Emperor's New Clothes," in that I picture an Avene executive saying, "But if we put FRENCH on the label and call it something fancy like THERMAL, nobody will notice that we just put WATER IN A CAN!" And then all the Avene test subjects start spraying themselves, trying not to choke as they accidentally inhale water vapor, and oohing and aahing over the restorative magic of Frenchie spring eau thermale. Although I'll certainly never buy this, it will get used... I am saving this bottle for the next particularly hot day that I have to spend outside for some reason. I'm sure it will be refreshing when I'm roasty-toasty at the beach or an outdoor concert or something. I mean, it's water. (In a can.)

    Water. In a can.
    • Eva NYC Therapy Session Hair Mask (travel size, valued at $12.00... or less): Beware, faint praise and a bust ahead! I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this product, quality-wise, but nothing particularly good either. It conditioned my hair about the same as my usual conditioner, so I certainly wouldn't say that it's restorative enough to be called something snazzy like a "hair mask." It smells okay, nothing mind-blowing, but not unpleasant. I would certainly never pay the $40 price on Eva NYC's website... which, amusingly enough, appears to be a mark-up by Eva NYC to compensate for the 65% off promo code offered to Ipsy subscribers. For comparison, here is the same product regularly priced at $14.99 at Ulta, and $15.99 at Walgreens. So basically, I can buy the full-sized product at one of those locations for almost the same price that Eva NYC has listed for this travel-sized bottle. Ridiculous.

    • Derma E Microdermabrasion Scrub (deluxe sample, valued at $16.25): I saved the best for last... I almost decided not to keep this, since I have zero problem with whipping up my own sugar scrubs, but then I sniffed it and found myself in love with the scent. It's a beautiful bright lemony aroma, no artificial Pledge lemon smell here! So I figured I'd keep it and see if there was really anything to the whole "micro" part of "microdermabrasion." As it turns out, I may have been missing out all that time I was making my own scrubs! The exfoliating grains in this scrub are super-fine and don't feel nearly as abrasive as my sugar, but my face still feels just as smooth afterward. My only nitpick? The label on the jar is wrinkled in a couple of places, as you can see below. If I'm going to spend $30 on a product, I think it should at least look like it was packaged with care, and since this sample is actually half the amount of product put into a full-sized jar, the wonky label bothers me. Still, this is something that I might actually purchase once I run out... which won't be too awfully soon, because the sample size is pretty generous, and a little goes a long way.

    Label wrinkles = OCD tweaked.
    Overall, I was not terribly happy with this month's Ipsy offerings. The return on my $20 investment was good from a price-only standpoint; Bag #1 rang in at $51.70, and Bag #2 at $46.63, for a total of $98.33. However, the value plummets if we look at the Ulta/Walgreens vs. inflated Eva NYC price for the hair mask. And then let's break that down to the value of the products I'll actually use.... and at least two of those are products I would absolutely not buy again (the Avene and the Eva NYC), and I probably won't wind up buying the Hey Honey or the Pur-lisse (unless either one surprises me and blows my mind, I'll keep using scrubs and will remain Skyn Iceland's bitch). So the actual value for me is pretty low this month, but I'm still happy enough with a couple of the items that I'm not left shaking my fist angrily and cursing Ipsy's name. I'm already looking forward to June; since this month was so skincare-heavy, I'm hoping for a return to lots of fun makeup next month!

    If my less-than-glowing review has somehow left you chomping at the bit to try Ipsy for yourself, please feel free to clicky-clicky here to sign up using my referral link. (As always, a disclaimer: I get points if you use my link, which I can redeem for products, but I would not share my link if I did not find Ipsy entirely worthwhile.)

    Friday, May 23, 2014

    Munchies by Mail Review: Graze Box #4

    So somehow I completely failed to document the existence of this week's Graze Box before throwing all the snacks into my work lunches the last couple of days... no photos for you, dear reader. Oops. Luckily, at least it wasn't a pretty new box, but the same fig design as last week's box, so go take a glance at that one if you need a refresher. Also, on the topic of refreshers... in case you'd forgotten or just plain don't know, Graze is a snack subscription service I'm test-driving. In the interest of having at least something graphic to look at for this review, here's a screencap of the box's contents, courtesy of Graze's website.

    On to the eating!
    • Toffee Apple: This snack was a pleasant surprise. I generally prefer the creamier texture of caramel to toffee, and I dearly love the combination of fresh apple slices dipped in some Marzetti caramel dip, so I wasn't sure that some dried apples and toffee would live up. I was wrong, though... this toffee dip is smooth and delicious, and the flavor is strong enough that a little goes a long way. The dried Granny Smith apple slices are pleasantly chewy and tart, a good contrast to the sweetness of the dip. This didn't quite earn a "love" rating, but it's a solid "like," which means that I want to receive it occasionally in the future.
    • My Thai: This is one of the snacks I was really looking forward to receiving, and I wasn't disappointed. This combo features "baked soy bites" with a dipping sauce that reminds me very much of Trader Joe's Sweet Chili Sauce. (If you have not tried this sauce, get thee straight to your nearest Trader Joe's and buy a bottle or three. And perhaps some of their frozen Veggie Gyoza, and dip those bad boys in the sauce. You're welcome, in advance.) The sauce is a beautiful balance of sweetness and spice, with just the right amount of chili-infused heat to light up your tastebuds without setting them on fire. The dippers are light, crunchy little vessels that let the sweet chili sauce be the star of the show... I just wish there had been a few more of them! This snack didn't quite earn a "love" rating either, only because the sauce isn't completely unique to me, but it did earn a "like."
    • Sour Cream and Onion Cashews: This is the first snack I've received that has actually stumped me in terms of a rating, because I can't decide if I like it or not! I like cashews, so that part is fine, but the sour cream and onion seasoning... I'm just not sure what I think. I like the flavor, but it's strong enough that I don't really want to eat more than a few at a time, which I guess is maybe a good thing for a snack? But because of that, I don't know if I really find them satisfying or not. I'm actually leaving these rated as "try" for now, so I can give them another whirl at some point before committing to a real rating.
    • Tropical Daiquiri: The first couple of fruit-only blends I received in previous boxes were disappointing... but this one has broken the streak. A blend of dried pineapple, green mango, and lime-infused raisins, this snack won me over with its tartness. No bland sweetness here! I daresay the mango even verges on sour, but in a thoroughly refreshing way. I really like what Graze does with flavor-infused raisins; I don't know if I was just thinking it because of the snack's name, but I swear that in addition to lime, the raisins also offer up a hint of rum flavoring that enhances the overall impression of "daiquiri." Again, not *quite* a love, but a hearty "like" for this little treat.
    So, overall, this was a very solid Graze Box for me. No true star of the show, but nothing got "trashed" either. As I say each time, I'm still not 100% sold on the overall value of these boxes from a price perspective, but I enjoy receiving them enough that it's worth it to me anyway. If you're interested in checking it out for yourself, please feel free to clicky-clicky here to sign up using my link. You will get your first and fifth boxes free, and I will get to either take a dollar off a future box or donate a buck to the Graze School of Farming.

    Wednesday, May 21, 2014

    Product Review: Demeter Cologne in Lilac, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Pink Grapefruit, Thunderstorm, Salt Air, Saltwater Taffy, Almond, and Piña Colada

    Demeter Fragrance Library is, to put it mildly, an overwhelming extravaganza of olfactory experiences. Billed as offering "simple, subtle, singular scents," Demeter's library encompasses hundreds of fragrances designed to evoke specific, individual scent associations rather than the complex blends found in typical perfumes. Really love an individual flower, food, or have fond memories of your grandpa's pipe or the smell of church incense? Demeter's got you covered. What really sets Demeter apart, however, is a bold willingness to make damn near anything into a perfume; some of the more, shall we say, "exotic" offerings include Wet Garden, Crayon, Turpentine, Funeral Home, and even Earthworm. No lie. (Not being particularly brave, I only ventured as far as Thunderstorm, but maybe one day I'll go rogue and find out how I smell wearing Dirt.) Demeter's fragrances are all available in a variety of forms, ranging from half-ounce "mini splashes" to full-size cologne sprays and home fragrance products.

    I discovered Demeter via my Ipsy subscription; Demeter's Jasmine rollerball perfume was one of a variety of options available to Ipsy subscribers in April, and although I actually wound up not receiving one in my bag, I decided to avail myself of the 20% discount code offered to all Ipsy subscribers. Because I had an impossible time winnowing my choices down to a reasonable amount, I decided to go with the "mini splashes" at $6 apiece (pre-discount) in order to try a healthy variety of scents without breaking the bank. I was also buoyed by Demeter's user-friendly return policy; any scent you don't like, you can send back for return, exchange, or refund (you pay shipping on returned items, but I think that's fair). I'll be sending back a few of my mini splashes in exchange for larger sizes of the scents I ended up adoring... or maybe for some of the scents that didn't quite make the cut the first time around (I'm looking at you, Condensed Milk).

    Without further ado, on to the smelly-goods!

    Left to right: J/K, I'm not listing them here. If you can't read the labels, we've got problems.
    • Honeysuckle: I. LOVE. THIS. FRAGRANCE. I cannot say enough good things about it. It is the exact scent of honeysuckle warming in the summer sun, more purely and simply reminiscent of the actual flower than I could have expected from a cologne. Seriously, one spritz and I'm a kid again, biking past a honeysuckle bush on my way to the swimming pool and stopping to suck that one sweet drop of deliciousness out of a blossom. If every Demeter cologne hit the nail on the head this perfectly, I'd go broke buying their entire line, and if I wore this to work, my patients would probably wonder why the nurse kept surreptitiously sniffing herself.
    • Jasmine: While I'm not quite as passionately enamored of this fragrance as I am of Honeysuckle, it's a pretty damn close second. Demeter can DO some flowers, y'all. To me, this is beautifully evocative of sitting in my best friend's South Carolina backyard, with the scent of the Confederate jasmine on her fence wafting on a balmy evening breeze. I wore it to work and one of my colleagues said I smelled like freshly cut grass and flowers, which also sounds like a good thing to me! It's just fresh, lovely, and relaxing.
    • Pink Grapefruit: I'm not entirely sure what I think of this interpretation. It starts off with the specific bright, tangy, juicy notes you'd expect from grapefruit in particular, but it dries down into something more... generic, I guess, is the only way to put it. Like, pick up any citrus-scented lotion or spray you've got, and this cologne probably smells sort of like that once the initial burst of scent wears off. I will be hanging onto this one to try layering it with some of the others, though, because I think I'll be able to come up with some tropical-leaning combinations that will make me happy.
    • Lilac: This is a sweet, clean, fresh scent... my only complaint is that it doesn't smell close enough to the specific variety of lilac that grows in my mother's garden, which is the scent association I was really hoping to trigger with this fragrance. I won't be keeping this one, only because I love the other two florals so much more that I'm not sure I'd ever get around to using this one!
    Part Deux. Again, I really hope you can figure these out on your own.
    • Thunderstorm: So I wanted to try one of Demeter's more unique offerings, and since I adore that particular smell that permeates the air right before a good storm, I opted to check out this one. Unfortunately, I found it pretty disappointing... to me it's more of a generic "masculine" sort of scent than anything rain-related. This one will be getting exchanged.
    • Piña Colada: The name says it all... fruity, syrupy-sweet, a hint of rum, a little bit of an umbrella-drinky vacation in a bottle. On the downside, it's not particularly unique in the realm of tropical scents, and it doesn't have much lasting power, so I'll be sending it back even though I like piña coladas (and getting caught in the rain... yeah, yeah, I know you were thinking it).  
    • Almond: Admittedly, I should have trusted that Demeter can distinguish between almond and amaretto, but I still ordered this in the hopes that it would be more of an amaretto scent. Wrong on that one! This is a very "foodie" scent, redolent with nutty fragrance... it really smells like some baked deliciousness that, of course, contains almonds. It's a lovely scent, but not one that I can see myself wearing regularly. I'd say that I would love my house to smell like this, but Demeter's home fragrance products are priced a wee bit higher than I think is necessary (and I prefer candles to diffusers and whatnot anyway).
    • Salt Air: This was my most eagerly anticipated scent, and tragically, it's one that I'll be sending back. As with Thunderstorm, I was expecting something very different than this fragrance, which honestly reminds me of any candle with "Ocean" or "Beach" in the name. It's what fragrance makers think the ocean *should* smell like, not what it actually smells like, with the sharp brine of salty air, maybe just a hint of suntan lotion in the breeze, and even a little undercurrent of seaweed. If someone could master THAT scent, I would buy ALL the smelly-goods. As it is, this is a perfectly serviceable fragrance, but not the one I was shooting for, and not one that really suits me to wear. Sending back.
    In addition to the eight scents I ordered, I received a bottle of Demeter's Saltwater Taffy cologne spray as a gift with $25 purchase. I doubt I'd have ever chosen this one on my own, and I'm not terribly enamored with it. Honestly, it reminds me very much of the Bath and Body Works vanilla spray in which I pretty much marinated throughout my high school years. Perfectly pleasant and serviceable, but just nothing special for me. I wouldn't keep it if it hadn't been a free gift to begin with.

    So, overall, my order was pretty hit-or-miss, but the hits were HITS. Honeysuckle and Jasmine make me super-happy, and those alone were worth the price of admission. I will be returning Lilac, Thunderstorm, Piña Colada, and Salt Air, and getting spray bottles of my two favorite florals and a rollerball of Honeysuckle for my purse. A relatively trivial bother: I wish Demeter's labels were more stylish. As is, they're terribly boring, and I hate the Comic Sans-ish font on the mini splashes. I can see how label design would be an issue with as many fragrances as Demeter is juggling, but still. I like my pretty packaging.

    You'll have to excuse me now... I'm off to go douse myself with Honeysuckle and sniff my wrist until I fall asleep.
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