Monday, November 24, 2014

10 Affordable Christmas Gift Ideas

New at The Body Shop.
The number one rule in selecting gifts is always give people things they can use.

I live in a small Manhattan apartment. One Christmas I recived a fake fireplace with a fake log from relatives who live in a big house in the suburbs. There was nothing special about it, nor do I ever recall wanting one. And, since it didn't function, out in the trash it went a short time later.

Why spend money on items with no purpose? How disappointing! Better to give nothing at all. I don't know, perhaps my relations were regifting? ... or just made a mistake. (By the way, they don't read the blog, but maybe they should. :)

A thoughtful holiday gift isn't always expensive; however it should be something you'd be happy to get. Here are ten ideas to consider:

1. The Body Shop Color Crush Nail Polish for her - Enriched with Community Free Trade marula oil and safe ingredients. Long lasting, bright nail color in over 24 shades. Plus, The Body Shop has attractive holiday skin care and grooming kits for men, women and the entire family.
2. Razor Kick Scooter - Perfect for kids of all ages. A sleek design and sturdy construction. I see at least one adult rider on the city streets each week, and it sure looks like a fun way to get around.
3. The Art of Shaving: The 4 Elements of the Perfect Shave - A unique blend of 100% essential oils for him. Great for sensitive skin. The kit includes pre-shave oil, shaving cream, after shave and a shaving brush. Travel and full sizes are available.

4. A BasTexWireless Case for a smart phone - The above Hard Knuckles Bumper model in metallic silver for an iPhone 5 sells for $4.99. There is a design and color to fit most every personality and cell phone.

5. A Craft Beer Brewing Kit - Everything a person needs to begin making beer at home. It's rewarding to learn a new hobby. A chance for the giftee to impress friends with delicious homemade beer. Who knows? You, the giver, might get invited to a beer tasting.

6. French Girl Organic - Lip Tints - A nourishing lip balm containing organic oils, butters and wax to keep lips moist and chap-free, in subtle earth tone tints. 
7. Pearl jewelry - From earrings, rings, bracelets or necklaces, there's a price point for every budget. A forever keepsake. You can't go wrong with pearls and silver or gold. Freshwater pearls are lovely just like their flawless siblings. Do your research before choosing. Macy's, a department store with knowledgeable buyers and a wide selection, is a good place to start.

8. Shea Moisture Soap - This whole product line of skin, body and hair care is the best kept secret in the beauty industry. Fabulously budget-friendly and available at Target, Walgreen and Bed, Bath And Beyond. Made with certified organic ingredients. The huge-sized soaps are excellent for pampering dry and sensitive skin. None better!

9. English Toffee - Chocolate, nuts and butter toffee, not to mention a mouthwatering crunch! Lots of sizes and brands are packaged in holiday boxes and tins. Makes a festive presentation.

10. A gift certificate - To a favorite store is always a thougthful present, in my opinion. 

Normally, adults get fewer gifts, so make yours count! What are your gift ideas?Emoji

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

How To Froth Milk Without A Frother

You don't need a fancy gadget to froth milk for a delicious cup of coffee (or cappuccino). The effort takes two minutes and is simple, so why bring another appliance into your kitchen?

To froth milk is to produce a mass of air bubbles by agitation. There are several ways to do so:

Method #1. Pour 1/2 cup of milk (per serving of coffee) into a jar; or use as much milk as you need as long as the jar is at least half empty. Secure the lid and shake the jar vigoriously for 30-60 seconds. Remove the lid and microwave it for 30-40 seconds. Voilà, froth! Pour the milk into hot coffee, and spoon the foam on top.

Method #2. Pour 1/2 cup of milk into a large mug and either microwave for 30-40 seconds, or pour into a saucepan and heat for several minutes on a stovetop until steaming. When it starts to produce steam, remove and use a whisk to stir vigoriously for 30-60 seconds. Add to coffee.

Lazy Girl (My) Method #3. Pour 1/2 cup of milk into a big mug to heat in a microwave for 30-40 seconds, or pour into a saucepan on a stovetop until it begins to steam. Remove and pour into a blender. Blend until frothy. Pour into your coffee.

Method #4. If you have a portion of milk left in a mostly empty milk jug, hold the lid on tightly with your thumb and shake the jug vigoriously for 30-60 seconds. Presto, you have froth. Pour it into a dish and microwave for 30-40 seconds before pouring into coffee. 

The reason you microwave the froth is to set the foam (i.e. air bubbles in liquid). It keeps the mixture from returning to milk.

I use skim milk. (That's what I normally stock. For guests I open a can of creamier condensed milk.) Milk with 1% or 2% fat works too. Use whatever you buy.

For cappuccino (the word means hood in Italian), brew a strong cup of coffee. Top with steamed (agitated) milk, ta-da ... froth.

No extra space, equipment or batteries needed. You're welcome!

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Atoxelene Line Wand

There is a trendy beauty fluid celebrities use to erase wrinkles and promote youthful skin. Have you heard of it? And if so, can you pronounce it?! The name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it?

Call it Botox on a brush. Reportedly, many A-list stars keep an Atoxelene Line Wand within reach. 

Here's why: It hydrates the skin and smoothes fine lines and wrinkles with properties of hyaluronic acid and peptides. 

The Atoxelene Line Wand is applied under makeup and before red carpet events to take years off a face. The treatment works immediately, but since it is an intraceutical, the effects are also cumulative, according to Hollywood markup ... um makeup artists. The more you use it, the better your skin looks. Brush it on crow's feet, furrows, frown lines and laugh lines to soften and reduce their appearance. Moreover, its anti-aging ingredients (the peptides) encourage quicker cell turnover and the growth of collagen to keep new expression lines at bay. It's a splurge at $49. The equally popular Atoxelene daily serum costs $149.

For a similar, but cheaper treatment, try Watts Beauty Peptide - Hyaluronic Acid Concentrated Serum Complex with L-Arginine and Silk Amino Acids.

And just for fun, challenge yourself by pronouncing the names of each of these products three times without stammering!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Uniqlo's Cold Weather Steals

12 colors: red, light green, dark green, blue, winter white, navy, brown, light grey, dark grey, black, pink, and purple
A classic wool sweater is a wardrobe essential. It keeps you warm and toasty in a 6-month battle with Old Man Winter, as well as, completes an outfit. Whether worn with a dress, trousers or leggings, a soft woven sweater adds polish and looks oh, sooo casual smart!

Uniqlo has an assortment of cashmere and extra fine merino wool sweaters in many styles and colors at super low prices. Men, women and children can choose from cardigans, pullovers, crew necks or v necks.

While I love the plushness of cashmere (it sells for $99), I decided to buy two extra fine merino wool cardigans in red and navy at $39 each (with a $10 promotion coupon). The extra fine merino wool cardigan is slightly longer than the cashmere counterpart, and it is tony!  Light-weigh, well-make and comfortable, I plan to stay warm in style on frosty days. 

You really can't go wrong with any of the Uniqlo sweaters this season. There's also a wool-blend variety selling for under $25, plus the retailer is famous for running weekly sales. I highly recommend stocking up in a few colors at these unbeatable prices.

Down vests

Another winter must-have is Uniqlo's ultra light down vests. Just like their sweaters, the down vests add style and warmth to your wardrobe without the need to bulk up. At $49.90, which is already a good price, it goes on sale sometimes, so you can wait if you wish to get the best deal. Perfect for traveling, the vest easily rolls up to fit into a stuffed suitcase.

Winter is wearing enough on a body without carrying around extra weight. And, who wants to look like the Michelin Man? Keeping warm without the bulk is a trademark of Uniqlo's innovative clothing.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Shiseido's Sparkling Party Palette

I love the efficiency of a well-thought-out makeup palette. At $50, it's not cheap, but you have all your makeup ducks sitting in a row -- a slim case which fits effortlessly into a small clutch purse. It contains all the brilliant colors and tools you need to freshen up as you spend a night out on the town. Besides, makeup palettes seem to last for a while, so at least you feel like you're getting your money's worth.

Shiseido is offering a limited edition holiday palette that helps you to enhance your natural beauty. The 6 shades complement each other. They can be mixed and matched to create several glamorous looks.

Going from left to right in the above image, here's what's inside: 1) crimson lip or check color; 2) a champagne (cream) eye base or highlighter; 3) and 4) brown and gold eye shadows; 5) dark blue (cream) eyeliner; and 6) coral blush.

Shiseido's Sparkling Party Palette makes an ideal gift. A practical, organized and easy-to-carry kit ... perhaps you'll want to keep it for yourself!


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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pure's Christmas Collection

Clothing made from all natural fiber like cashmere, silk, cotton or linen can be hard to find, but when you do buy them, they are worth it. The fabric feels soft on your skin and lasts for years. If you take proper care of articles made from pure cotton or wools, they actually improve with age and make whatever you pair them with look better.

One of my favorite apparel companies, who specialize in natural fiber, is Britain's Pure Collection. I love their comfortable, classic, luxe clothing. If I were an uber-buyer, I'd order everything in their catalogs. Their dresses, skirts and sweaters are gorgeous. Instead, I try to figure out what I really need and settle for a few pieces.

Their new Christmas collection (yes, it's out already!) features sequin and leather pencil skirts, plus jeweled silk blouses and cashmere cardigans. This holiday season, sparkle in natural fiber and comfort!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween Greetings From The Savvy Shopper

A haunted house with flying bats, fog and a jack-o-lantern. Oh, come a little closer. Open the gate to enter. Inside the hosts are waiting for you!
Blue Oyster Cult's familiar song is our Halloween mood setter. The song has a catchy reoccurring guitar riff and a cowbell percussion. Click the arrow below to listen, and follow along to the lyrics, if you wish. Have a frighteningly good night! And remember ... the day after All Hallows' Eve is All Saints Day ... followed by all Soul's Day (November 1, 2). Booo.

Don't Fear The Reaper

All our times have come
Here but now they're gone
Seasons don't fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain ... 
We can be like they are
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand, don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly, don't fear the reaper

Baby I'm your man, 

Valentine is done
Here but now they're gone, Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity.

Romeo and Juliet
Forty thousand men and women everyday, Like Romeo and Juliet
Forty thousand men and women everyday, Redefine happiness
Another forty thousand coming everyday, We can be like they are
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand, don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly, don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man, 

Love of two is one
Here but now they're gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear she couldn't go on
Then the door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew then disappeared
The curtains flew then he appeared, saying don't be afraid
Come on baby, and she had no fear
And she ran to him, then they started to fly
They looked backward and said goodbye, she had become like they are
She had taken his hand, she had become like they are
Come on baby, don't fear the reaper

Walk this way past the welcoming committee.
Happy Halloween!MSN Messenger emoticon Vampire bat

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

CoverGirl Cheekers Blush Is A Top Performer

Savvy Cosmetic Shoppers should only splurge on makeup when top ingredients count. Blush usually falls into the must-splurge category, since rich pigments will stay on cheeks all day long without fading. That's why it's very exciting to find a steal for under $5 at the corner drugstore!

CoverGirl Cheekers is a winning blush that performs nearly as well as its luxe cousins for a fraction of the cost. It gets top ratings from magazine-end-of-year lists and everyday women because it comes in 17 natural looking shades to suit a multitude of skin tones. You can also build on the color to flatter your unique complexion; or to-go-from day to evening. The variety of hues blend easily, and each color has a subtle shimmer that gives the face a radiant finish. With a staying power of 5 - 8 hours, it is a smart blush to have in your makeup bag. Inexpensive and fabulous!
Do you have a favorite makeup, cheap-drugstore-buy to recommend?Emoji

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Classic Dark Chocolate Cake

Let the baking begin. It was my first time making a traditional chocolate cake from scratch, but I didn't let that stop me and neither should you. Look how easy/breezy.

After checking a few sources, I used the recipe off the side of a Hersey's Unsweetened Cocoa canister. The chocolate company was established in 1894. I tweaked the ingredients a little bit for the benefit of real chocolate lovers:

Dark Chocolate Cake

Cocoa, in all its glorious forms: beans, powder; a chocolate bar
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

optional: 2 melted squares of gourmet (or Baker's) dark chocolate bar (if you have it)

1) Put the ingredients, one by one, into a mixing bowl while beating with an electric mixer until blended (about 2 minutes). You don't want to over mix this cake. Expect a thin batter.
2) Pour the batter into two 9-inch greased baking pans (or three-8 inch baking pans).
3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degree F in the oven.
4. Remove the pans from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before removing the cake from the pans to cool completely.

Next select a frosting ...

Chocolate Ganache Frosting

8 ounces good semisweet chocolate chips, or pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream (or you can substitute 1/2 cup of condensed milk, which also works. Naturally, the fatty heavy cream tastes better.)
choose one flavor: 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules, or 1 teaspoon real vanilla

1. Heat the cream in a pan on a stove top until it just begins to simmer.
2. Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate (and coffee or vanilla). Allow the chocolate to melt.
3. Whisk thoroughly. (If I want to thicken the ganache because I've used too much condensed milk, I will return the pot to the stove to simmer it on a low flame while whisking continuously.)
4. Let the mixture sit at room temperature until it thickens and cools.
3. Frost the layers and sides of the cake.

Or you can make a Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting: Blend together: 1 stick of melted butter, 1/3 cup milk, 2/3 cup of dark cocoa powder, choose one flavor: 1 teaspoon vanilla, or 1 teaspoon of instant coffee; and add about 3 cups of confectionery sugar until you get a thick, spreadable frosting. Baker's tip: Double Frost your cake: Frost the cake, refrigerator it, then frost it again. That's how professional bakers make cakes look so scrumptious. Add the chocolate shavings, if you wish!

For an intense chocolate flavor, as well as, the health benefits of anti-oxidants, try using organic raw cocoa powder in lieu of a commercial processed cocoa powder.

Invite friends over ... and serve.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Masters Of Sex, A Review

Photo: Showtime
Recently I binge watched the Showtime period drama, Masters of Sex. There are two seasons of 12 episodes each to watch, and it's a good investment of time. 

The show depicts the lives of sex therapists Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who are brilliantly portrayed by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. The real William Masters was an esteemed fertility doctor; Virginia Johnson, a divorced mother of two and former night club singer without a science degree. Initially, Mrs. Johnson was hired as Dr. Master's secretary. 

They began their sex studies in the 1950s when such research was considered smut, not science. It's not easy being pioneers in a field with controversy and misconceptions galore, and it requires brains, ambition, panache and an unrelenting tenacity to succeed. Each of the groundbreakers had qualities (i.e. strengths) the other lacked. First Masters and Johnson needed to set up a sex lab at the hospital where they worked; then they needed more autonomy so they moved their study to independent offices, therefore they needed backers with deep pockets; and still later, they needed to get published for their work to be taken seriously, not to mention, reach the ears of scientific grand poobahs and the public ... all of which took personal sacrifices and years of their lives.

Masters of Sex is one of the best written shows airing. It's a rich story. The characters are real and multi-layered, sometimes flawed, but not irredeemable or destructive. You understand what motivates them. There are no throw away characters on the show. You are interested in the entire cast of lead and supporting characters. There is not one person, who I haven't felt sympathy for at one time or another.

It gets complicated too. Smart people aren't always smart, and moral people fall short. Sometimes ignorance, ambition, ego, insecurity, politics or the times get in the way. The scripts are beyond good; they are sophisticated with slice of life insights.

Overall, it's an upbeat show. But at times people make compromises ... to get ahead ... to get along ... to get the job done.

And yes, there is plenty of sex to watch. But, none of it is gratuitous. Um, let's just anoint the show's talented cast as the bravest actors on TV. They do not flinch. Television viewers experience the venerability ... and get into the hearts and minds of all the characters. We root for them; and sometimes, ache for them.

What a quality show. There will be a season three.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Halloween Themed Clothes And Accessories

Sidney Evan 14k rose gold ring with ruby and garnet.
Halloween comes at the exact right time of the year. We have all of October to get ready for Fright night! If you don't dress up in full costume, you can still have a bit of ghoulish fun with these haunting accessories. The ring at the top is probably my favorite. love it ... and will use it as inspiration, since at $620, I can't really justify the expense. Surely, I can find a gold-plated-rhinestone knock-off for a few dollars elsewhere. (Wouldn't I always like to be wearing rubies and solid gold though!)

Esty, which focuses on homemade, vintage and unique factory items, is a fantastic website to find these kinds of things at affordable prices. The e-company provides "personal storefronts" to artists, craftsmen-and-women and other small sellers, who pay a small fee to list a piece of merchandise. Here is a round-up of several spooky pieces to get you into the spirit for All Hollows' Eve
A black cat iPhone 5 cover here.
These tiny skull studs here.
How about these creepy spider earrings here?
A jack-o-lantern glass pendent neckless with an attitude here.
A spider and web neckless here.
A vampire knuckle ring here.
Oooh, an Alexander McQueen skull silk blend scarf. Pricey, so for inspiration.
An inexpensive skull print sweater from ASOS. I'll take the leather skirt too!
Halloween comes but once a year ... and what a lovely season it is in the western hemisphere! Falling leaves, pumpkins, the light layering of a sweater, hot cider, craft beer and candy corn.

For more goth inspired clothing and accessories click this link for ASOS.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Sole Society For The Latest Style

Boho wrap bracelet, $30
When it comes to chic shoes, handbags and accessories, The Sole Society is right up THE SAVVY SHOPPER'S alley. The site features timeless style, the latest trends along with well crafted goods at mostly affordable prices.

That said, buyer beware. Order with great caution because although shipping is free both ways, returns aren't always hassle free. Customers report that shoe sizes are unpredictable. One size 8 might fit perfectly, yet in another style, a size 8 is too big or small. Not uncommon with footwear, but with this merchant, when shoes or articles don't work out, consumers are given either:

1) store credit for returns; or 2) pay a $7.95 restocking fee (per item returned) for refunds to their credit cards. For these reasons, I would not order shoes directly from the company's website. Instead I recommend ordering Sole Society shoes from other retailers who sell the brand, such as Nordstrom or Amazon, which have friendlier return policies. Who wants to pay $8 to get refunds?

Nonetheless, if you see shoes on the site too posh to pass up and are willing to accept the return policy, be sure to read all the customer reviews for insights before placing an order. Other customers will often tell you if the shoes run big or small, or discuss the quality and look.

Personally, when shopping online, I only take calculated risks on familiar, or inexpenive merchandize. The cost of mistakes can really add up.

Sole Society has a couple of features that make the website fun to browse. Its Tastemarker Series is a useful section where fashion insiders, including top editors and industry bloggers, give you advice, plus select their favorite items. Also appealing is the Shop The Look section, where you can click on a hot outfit to explore and buy the trendy pieces. It's like having a personal cyber stylist at your service!

So enjoy the fashion-forwardness of The Sole Society ...  just shop mindfully.

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