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!)
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