Saturday, August 31, 2019

IT Velvet Luxe for Ulta Makeup Brushes Now Only On EBay

Learn how to use makeup brushes here.
On THE SAVVY SHOPPER I don't normally write sales-flash posts on products. Occasionally, I'll post a too-good-to-ignore sale alert on the blog's Facebook page, where such up-to-the-minute (act-now!) information works better. Here (by design) readers can go back 10 years to read blogs that mostly keep their relevance. The advice and tips don't date like this present blog entry will eventually do ... in a day? ... a week? ... or a month's time. (Well, we will ... together ... find out.)

But a price drop on a stellar makeup brush (that is also unwisely being discontinued) is too good not to share!

Last year I bought a quality makup brush from the IT For Ulta Velvet Luxe line. The brushes in that particular line, are plush, soft, firm, percision in application; and never, ever shed. In other words, everything we want: It is hands down the best makeup brush I've ever used! 

Retailing at $48, I was happy to get it on sale for $24. In the future I knew I had to buy more makeup brushes in the Velvet Luxe line to replace inferior brushes ... when they again went on sale. Although on sale, the money still adds up! 

Not until a year later did I return to Ulta to buy my 2nd (a blush) brush. To my great surprise, Ulta is out of stock of the It Velvet Luxe blush brush (as well as many of the other Velvet Luxe brushes which do other jobs expertly). Why??? Because IT Cosmetics is in the process of discontinuing their Velvet Luxe variety of brushes. Insane!!! ~~ as their new brushes  -- at the same price -- are inferior! They are not as soft or plush! So double trouble!!

Readers, the light at end of the tunnel is ...  you can (while supplies last) still buy the IT For Ulta Velvet Luxe brushes on eBay for even less money than Ulta's best sale price.

I own 4 of the IT Velvet Luxe brushes: LBD Powder #307; Plush Foundation #304 (a multi-tasker, I use it for blush and bronzer); Soft Focus Sculpting #315 (blush); and I just ordered the Empress Fan brush #324 (such a price drop why not? ... to set makeup with finishing powder). I also like the Kabuki brush -- it's the biggest of the brushes. If you don't mind the size, you can use it in place of  the #307 and #324 brushes. Truly once you pay for an item and walk out the door, it's nobody's business how you use it!

As to why IT Cosmetics is replacing their superior Velvet Luxe brushes with less plush, or stiffer bristles I haven't a clue. :(


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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Silicone Kitchen Tools Worth The Money

Silicone kitchen tools are plentiful nowadays. A flexible, durable material not melted by heat, silicone can do jobs as well as, if not better than metals of yesteryear. Silicone's lightness and resilience give it a space saving advantage over rigid tools.
I have silicone baking mats to line aluminum cookie sheets, and a silicone bundt cake pan, but with these 2 examples, the texture of cookies and cakes lose a little something when baked on silicone, as opposed to, on their metal counterparts. Still I often use the silicone mats to bake cookies on because of the easy cleanup. And supple silicone allows me to have a bundt cake pan as I lack cupboard space for an aluminum bundt cake pan.

Here are 3 more Silicone Kitchen Tools Well Worth the Money - Each is weightless, pliable, tough, super functional (and best of all) cheap:
1) OXO Microwave Omelet Maker in Red - Making an omelet, or a hot nosh sometimes seems like more trouble than it's worth. So much to clean up for a small bite! The omelet maker reduces your cleanup. It has a 3 egg capacity: Mix, microwave, and eat it all in the same silicone dish. I like to steam vegetables in it too. The silicone maker folds in half and seals, so the vegetables get steamed tender in 5 minutes. After they cook, unfold and voilà, you have a silicone plate. Plus an easy breezy one vessel cleanup. 
2) Silicone Sponge Scrubber - It seems like regular sponges fall apart without much use, whereas the silicone is super durable. "Sponge" is a little misleading. These won't absorb like a sponge, but are great for wiping and scrubbing dishes, pans and counter tops. So they won't replace your sponge, but they do some jobs better, and you won't need to buy as many sponges, which saves time and money in the long run. Another benefit, silicone is bacteria and odor resistant, partly because it dries faster than a regular sponge. 
3) Clean + Simple Scrubbing Gloves - What is better than silicone sponges? Little scrubbers attached onto silicone gloves! Nothing to hold! Protect your hands from heat and cleansers while you scrub-a-rub-dub away.

No need to shop at upscale retailers as all the above silicone tools are found at T.J. Maxx and Home Goods for less. When in stock, be sure to snatch them up!

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Pretty Pear Blue Sapphires At Macy's

The sale at Macy's - see here - it ends soon but usually returns if you watch for it.
I love fine jewelry like some other bloggers love designer shoes or handbags. Although I pop into Tiffany & Co., Bulgari and other Madison Avenue jewelers occasionally, there's no way I can justify paying thousands of dollars on such expensive pieces. I mean, few of us actually have $100,000 sitting idle, plus a gal would need the lifestyle to merit buying such sparkle. Would I adorn myself in 6-figure jewelry only to walk up and down Madison Avenue? Or go to a movie, or the ballet? Nooo, I'd have to be part of the Met Gala or Page Six society ball set. I look because it's fun to see gorgeous, top-notch jewelry! And younger, my father and I used to gawk at jewelry store displays, picking our favorites.😍

Because I don't live the lifestyle, it's safe for me to browse. When on a spending hiatus, it's T.J. Maxx where I dare not go!

As my readers know, I don't consider jewelry an investment since you will rarely (or never) get what you paid if you resell it. Realty: Short of being famous (with millions of fans), or a queen, you will lose money on jewelry. So only buy it because you love it!
A matching necklace here.

It is why I'm a big fan of Macy's fine jewelry department for mid-priced jewelry. To find value to suite your budget and taste, it pays to shop where there is a wide selection. Although the gems are not top-notch, you still get lots of bang for the buck. Macy's offers real gold, variety, great design, reasonably good stones; at bargain prices. The gems aren't top-grade, but you haven't paid for them with an arm and a leg either, so it's a smart trade off enabling ordinary people on budgets to own some glitter IMHO. I mean, we can save up to buy a proper piece. 

The earrings featured at the top is an example of what I think is a steal ... or at least a good deal:
  • 6 carats of blue sapphires, with 1/4 carat of white sapphires, so 3 big carats per ear
  • Set in 10k white gold
  • Original price: $1,250.00
  • Sale price: $445.99 (64% off)
  • Extra 25% off, so with offer = $335.24           
Don't get me wrong, Macy's isn't giving anything away. Here are the reasons the earrings are affordable:

The gold is only 10k, the sapphires are navy blue, so on the dark side, yet still blue (not black). The diamonds aren't diamonds, but white sapphires. All OK with me for the price. 

Earrings in 18k gold, or platinum; with 6 carats of certified natural Ceylon (color not country) sapphires; surrounded by diamonds would cost between $7,000 - $10,000+ depending on color, clarity and cut. BTW: Sapphires are no longer mined in Ceylon (the Island country a/k/a Sri Lanka) so those rare sapphires can be $20,000 - $100,000+ especially for single, bigger stones!

The Macy's earrings are much less in quality and price than what Tiffany sells. Nonetheless, you get real bling with real gold and real sapphires ... a luxury splurge with money leftover to buy necessities. That's a good deal for a Savvy Shopper!


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Thursday, August 22, 2019

L'Orèal's Air Dry It Hair Series

I wash and blow dry my hair every day, but sometimes I get tired of the ritual, and even with heat protecting conditioners, it's healthy to give hair a break from heat. Unfortunately avoiding electric stylers and heat usually leaves your hair untamed and messy. A sad, unappealing sight that can now be remedied! L'Oèal has launched an exciting series of styling products to give hair: body, shine, smoothness and texture, sans the heat, i.e. by letting it air dry naturally. Best of all, the new stylers do their work without leaving your hair, sticky, flaky, crunchy or stiff. The end result is soft, touchable hair that has fullness, hold, shine and texture.

L'Oèal's Advanced Air Dry It hair stylers include:

1) Ruffled Body Mousse - Perfect for curly and wavy hair. Creates a soft, ruffled look. Extra tip: Flip head upside down and scrump the ends with your figures to add volume.

2) Undone Style Cream - Perfect for straight or wavy hair. Gives an undone, soft and shiny look. Extra tip: Apply to the ends of the hair for added smoothness.

3) Waved Swept Spray - Perfect for all hair types. Produces a natural , textured, wavy look. Extra tip: Spray on wet and braided locks of hair for extra waves.

These new hair products save time: Natural, effortless, shiny, full, smooth hair ... minus the heat. Wow, envision going away without packing your blow dryer, straightener or curling iron! Each product costs under $5.


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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Chago Mushooms

Would you know what this image is without the blog title? Imagine the first person to say, "Mmm, cut me a chunk of THAT black growth we found in the woods. I must ingest it! Let's see what happens ..."

The mysterious mass is a chago mushroom (a/k/a inonotus obliquus), a type of fungus that grows on the bark of Birch trees in cold climates in Russia, Northern Europe, Alaska and parts of Asia. ("Chago" comes from the Russian word, "чага.") In Russia people have used chago as a traditional medicine to boost immunity and good health for centuries. Packed with anti-oxidants, chago is sold as either a tea, or powdered food supplement.

Although scientistic studies are lacking on humans, animal and test tube studies found that chago extract may improve chronic inflammation; fight cancer; lower blood sugar; and reduce cholesterol. For these reasons people take it to support their heart, liver and immune systems.

But no studies have analyzed the proper dosage, or safety of taking chago. In spite of being a natural substance, it could interact with other drugs people need to take to treat various conditions. People with bleeding disorders; autoimmune disease; on blood thinners; or who are pregnant; or breastfeeding could experience side effects and should always talk to their doctor before consuming it for safety. 

If you're healthy and not taking other medicine, a cup of chago tea shouldn't hurt you ... and just might be delicious!

Reportedly, mushrooms are part of a healthy diet. They are also a main ingredient of Dr. Andrew Weil's anti-aging skin care line.

 Having stumbled upon chago mushrooms recently, I'm intrigued and ready to try a cup of the tea for the anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties alone ... always staying clear of self-medicating and at the very least, wasting money on an expensive food supplement whose results in treating disease, is for now unproven! Chago extract shows promise, yet no one has spent the money to run studies to prove that it's more than just a tasty cup of tea. 

How about you? Are you up for a cup?


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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Timeless Coach Bags

Interior Couch photos courtesy of Yelp
Although it's fabulous fun looking at Chanel or Hermès bags costing thousands of dollars at high-end stores, many of us can't justify buying one. The money spent is several mortgage, or car payments plus! Moreover, it can take years of cock and bull hoops to jump over before buying the exclusive French manufactured bags; and they never, ever (like never!) go on sale. Who wants to deal with such nonsense?!
Today I'm featuring Coach, a straightforward American company, specializing in luxury handbags and accessories. Founded in 1941 on 34th Street in Manhattan, the merchant makes men's and women's bags, coats and jackets, footwear, jewelry, watches, eye wear, fragrance and small leather goods (like wallets, belts, luggage tags, etc.). The handbags are full grain, leather, expertly tanned and stitched. Bags are also available in fabric. For sure, Coach stands toe to toe with its French competitors for thousands of dollars less per piece. No rubbish to endure either. Just save up your money; walk into the store; buy your bag; and leave with it. Ok as an American, I am biased ... but isn't that the way it should be? As a paying customer, I'm not groveling and won't wait years to buy a handbag.
At around $350 (or $450 for top handle/shoulder Tabby  bags), Coach bags aren't cheap, yet unlike the French bags, customers can find bargains. Not only do Coach bags go on sale, (at Coach!) they are sold at outlet stores and T.J. Maxx for less. What's more, they start at prices people who work can save up for if paying full price. Of course Savvy Shoppers find deals!
I bought my first Coach bag at a discount store (now defunct) when I was 16 years old (for $20) before I knew what a Coach bag was. What I saw was a pretty, full grain leather bag I could afford! That was decades ago, and I still own the bag. They are nearly indestructible. In my youth, I definitely didn't take good care of my handbags. My Coach bag got the same workout as a dedicated mailman: Used in rain, heat, sleet and snow but still looks good enough to use today.
Couch "Cassie" crossover bag, the newest launch with interor compartments and pockets.
I notice Coach bags are even more stylish than they photograph. Up close you see the craftsmanship and quality of the smooth, thick leather. The bags are modern and classic.
When in Manhattan I highly recommend visiting the Couch flagship store at 685 5th Avenue. Friendly staff invite visitors to float through the spacious tri-level store, sometimes with leather work in progress on the 2nd floor. The leather worker will customize your bag with a few embellishements at the store if you wish. And look for the huge Coach dragon (see above) created with hundreds of Coach bags on the ground floor.


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Monday, August 12, 2019

Should You Shop At H&M?

H&M, which began in 1947, has grown into one of the world's leading fashion retailers. A store is within walking distance of my home, so I pop in quite often. But! Except for socks and hair scrunches, I buy little there. 
I think the merchant has super cute clothing, however, too often the dresses are too (mini) short (or granny) long; the fabric too thin; and the fabric-type too cheap to hold up. These reasons keep this frequent browser from becoming a frequent buyer of H&M's clothing. That said once in a while there are surprisingly wearable finds.
I own 4 of the above sleeveless fit and flare dresses (the one above included) which come out in different colors and patterns every spring, selling at $12.99 each. The dress is 100% polyester, which is good and bad: The fabric is not thin or see-through, therefore the dress transitions me from the spring into early summer. In early spring when temperatures can still be frosty, the dress layers well with leggings and a cashmere sweater. But once the heat of later June moves in, the same polyester fabric makes the dress too hot to wear. So the dresses stay in my closet until early autumn arrives. Although great to have 4 season-transitional dresses, if made in a substantial cotton (or linen) fabric, the same dresses could be worn throughout the summer.

So here is my assessment a/k/a the good and bad of H&M:
  • Chic, trendy and adorable style
  • Won't break the bank
  • Fabric that is often too thin or cheap to wear
  • Rising prices while quality stays the same
Who am I to argue with a business' massive success? Still I challenge H&M to give their ultra talented designers better fabrics (cotton, linen, wool) to work with and their customers better (more durable) clothing to wear. Since more pieces now appear on the racks costing $39.99 and $49.99, up the quality of the garments also. Until the quality of fabric and craftsmanship improves, personally, I only consider the $12.99 finds. (Btw, the 4 H&M $12.99 dresses of mine have lasted 4-5 years. They were bought a year apart.)
Finally, I appreciate the retailer's recycling initiative: Drop off any used textiles at H&M stores to receive 15% coupons for future purchases. In general too many fast-fashion buys is bad for the environment, so that too is an issue. Nonetheless, how wonderful the retailer makes recycling easy and rewarding for their customers to do. Readers, do you shop at H&M?


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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Lemon Squares Light


Photo: redstickspice
Lemon Squares are delicious when you eat dinner out at a restaurant, or stop for coffee at a cafe. The combination of sweet and sour is refreshing and can't be beat! No need to think about the two sticks of butter and 2 cups of sugar which usually go into making them so scrumptious! But at home there's no denying the amount of fat and sugar you are dropping into a mixing bowl! And so, I've never made lemon squares until I found the perfect recipe in a Cooking Light magazine. Today I'll share it with you so that you (and I) can return here to make them:

Lemon Squares Light

Ingredients:
Any brand of real butter (3 tbs)

(Crust)
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup all-purple flour

Directions:.

1) Using a fork, mix together the sugar and butter until creamy.

2) Add the flour, a portion at a time, continue mixing until you get a crumb consistency.

3) Press the dough into the bottom of an 8'' baking pan.

4) Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree F oven for 15 minutes before removing to cool.

While the crust is baking, make your lemon custard:

Ingredients:

3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

Directions:

1) Beat eggs until foamy with an electric mixer.

2) Toss in the sugar (half at a time) and continue to mix.

3) Add the rest of the ingredients in order and mix until well-blended. 

4) Pour the mixture over the cooled crust and return to the over to finish baking.

5) Bake at 350 degrees F for another 20 - 25 minutes until set.

6) Remove from the oven and let cool. 

7) Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar. It looks lovely and adds sweetness when you reduce sugar in a recipe.

8) Cut into squares.

Make no mistake ... you are still eating dessert. But I am happy to find a lighter Lemon Square recipe. Cooking Light did all the work, so I didn't have to tweak ingredients ... nor have a failure before coming up with a lighter recipe that still tastes like real lemon squares. It's as healthy as we can make them while still satisfying our lemon square craving.  Enjoy as a treat!🍋


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Monday, August 5, 2019

Playtime At Bergdorf Goodman's Chanel Boutique

On Saturday I stopped into luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman to look at Chanel bags. The sales associate was psychic as he put the two Chanel bags I most covet on the counter under my nose. There is no chance of me ever forking over a cool $9,000 for them. Nonetheless, I can't deny they are the very Chanel bags I'd hope to get from my Fairy Godmother after her startling appearance before my eyes.
Photo: Via YouTube

The first bag is actually the cheapest because it is the smallest: The Chanel Trendy CC Wallet On Chain - I prefer it in caviar leather, since if I paid $2,500 for a wallet on a chain, the leather better hold up! The wallet is more like a small handbag. It has 6 useful slots for credit and identity cards; an inside compartment with a zipper; and enough room to hold a smart phone, money, keys, lipstick, eye glasses, comb, ink pen, tissues and tickets, i.e. it has more space than a standard wallet. Best of all, it has what the small and medium sized Chanel Double Flap bags lack, a long crossbody strap. Unlike previous Chanel WOCs, which have a magnetic button closure, the later Chanel Trendy CC WOC has an improved twist and turn closure. The black leather with the gold hardware and top "CHANEL" gold plate is gorgeous. Fairy Godmother, I love, this bag!

Right next to it sat the iconic Chanel Double Flap Jumbo bag in caviar leather. The Jumbo is the only flap bag size with a long strap to wear crossbody. Recently the world's #1 selling luxury bag increased in price to $6,200, a sum I can't justify spending on a handbag, as much as I love it. 

Moreover, I do like my Double Flap inspired Chanel bag (a dupe not a replica), which I got in lambskin leather for much less. Consider: I can buy 52 of my inspired bag with greenbacks left over to spend on a nice dinner and subway fare home. Unfortunately like with all leather goods, expect wear and tear if you use your Chanel bag(s); and what a waste of money if you don't. So there lies the paradox of owing overpriced luxury handbags.
But aren't Chanel bags exquisite? Um, I'd be quite happy with the small one, Fairy Godmother.


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Thursday, August 1, 2019

Homemade Hoisin Sauce And Sweeten Condensed Milk Are Cheap

Photo: sugarapron.com
I don't know why certain foods are sky high when their ingredients are dirt cheap. Sometimes it's the labor involved in making them, but not always. Condiments costing more than meat, which consist of few ingredients that take little time to pour together I will make myself from now on. Plus I'll use top ingredients!

Allow me to illustrate with savory and sweet examples. Let's start with a recipe for the savory condiment. Since it's so easy to prepare, why buy it?:

Homemade Hoisin Sauce
On amazon here

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon honey (molasses, or brown sugar)
2 teaspoons vinegar (I use cider or white)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon hot sauce (I use Sriracha)

Directions:

Pour the ingredients into a bowl and whisk them together. Done!!

Hoisin sauce is used in Chinese stir fry dishes. 

For a fast meal, I stir fry 16 ounces of cut broccoli, 3 chopped carrots, 3 sliced stalks of celery, one sliced red pepper, 1 medium chopped onion and  2-3 cloves of minced garlic. I toss the ingredients directly into a Wok pan, stir-fry and cover with a lid to let the vegetables tenderize on low heat while waiting for 1 cup of brown rice, or quinoa to cook on a 2nd burner. The liquids from the vegetables and Hoisin recipe will make enough sauce. When the vegetables are nearly done, cube 16 oz of of tofu and toss into the stir fry mixture. After the vegetables are no longer raw, simply turn off the burner and wait for the rice to catch up on the 2nd burner. Brown rice, or quinoa requires 1/2 hour to tenderize. Delish!

🍴🍴🍴🍴🍴🍴🍴🍴

My 2nd recipe requires a little bit of prior planning, but the savings of homemade are substantial:

Sweetened condensed milk is a condiment often used to make cookie bars or boiled caramel, but why is it so ridiculously expensive? A 14 ounce can sells for over $4; yet the 2 ingredients used to make it are relatively cheap. I don't think making it is so labor intensive, it justifies such a steep markup:

Homemade Sweeten Condensed Milk
On Amazon here

Ingredients:
For each cup of finished sweetened condensed milk --

2 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar

Directions

1) Completely dissolve the sugar into the milk by whisking it before you heat the sauce pan.

2) After the sugar is completely dissolved into the milk, turn on the flame and the second the mixture simmers, lower the heat so it never boils. There is no more need to stir it, just let the pot simmer on a low heat.

3) Simmer it for 30 to 40 minutes until the liquid thickens into condensed milk. 

4) Remove from the stove and skim off any cooked milk skin or brown edge that you see.

5) Let the mixture cool in order to use, or store into a jar for later.

Until this year, I never tried to make these condiments myself. But why not? It's silly to pay $3 per pound of meat and nearly $5 for a can of condensed milk. (As you can guess that one irks me the most! Dear Milk Robber Barons, from this day forward, my money stays in my pocket.). 

After we know how simple and cheap a few condiments are to make, ignorance is no longer bliss! What did you buy before you leaned how to make it?


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