Frosty VoxBox

This month (December 2014), I received a Frosty VoxBox full of goodies to review.  These products were provided free from Influenster, and I agree to review them online.  In this box, I got a bunch of stuff to review.

Product Reviews

  • No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Serum from Boots Beauty USA.  Claims to “be even more effective at reducing the appearance of fine lines for younger looking skin in just two weeks.” This is a foil packet that contains 3 mL of product.  I’m not sure how I’m going to make that last for 2 weeks without drying out or if there is enough of the product in the little foil pouch, but I will start using it.  Feb 2015 UPDATE: I used this until it dried out.  I couldn’t see much difference.  It did make my skin feel like I’d kind of rubbed glue on it–that sort of tight, filmy feeling.
  • Rimmel Gentle Eye Makeup Remover: “Gently removes all eye makeup, including long-lasting and waterproof makeup, with no oily residue.” Unlike some eye makeup removers, this one isn’t biphasic or oil-based.  My first impression was that it required more scrubbing than I like to get the mascara off and it left my skin feeling very dry and tight.  I didn’t like that feeling.  However, that mascara has been notoriously difficult to remove, so I will try with another mascara too.  Removing eyeliner and shadow, however, was a breeze.  Feb 2015 UPDATE: I have been using this more.  I read a tip that you should hold the remover-soaked cotton pad (or cotton ball, whatever you used) on your eyelid for 15 seconds to let it penetrate the makeup and saturate the area.  Works much better that way.
  • Rimmel Scandaleyes Waterproof Kohl Kajal Eyeliner: “Gives instant colour impact with its high intensity pigments.  The ultra-smooth and creamy formula glides on easily.” You got that right!  This eyeliner was unusual in that it required almost NO pressure to apply, so it didn’t drag.  It also didn’t smudge and it wore very well.  It’s quickly become the eyeliner I tend to grab first when I grab a black.  Very light application can actually get you a dark grey color that is soft rather than a harsh black line.  I’d buy more of these without a doubt!  Feb 2015 UPDATE: still gets occasional use when I remember to use eyeliner.  Definitely one of my more reliable ones.
  • NYC Expert Last Lip Color in Sugar Plum: “Get intense, amplified color and shine that lasts up to six hours!  Our moisturizing formula glides on easily for  a silky, smooth, velvety finish for all day wear.”  I like the color of this lipstick a LOT.  It does apply well and is highly pigmented, so I get great coverage with a single swipe.  What I did not get was six hours wear or moisturizing.  In regard to those claims, this lipstick was about average for me, but I have NEVER found a lipstick that actually lasts six hours.  I think I lick my lips a lot.  Feb 2015 UPDATE: Wear this a lot even though it’s not super moisturizing.  The lid has a very annoying tendency to come off.  Love the color.
  • Celestial Seasonings Candy Cane Lane Decaf Green Tea: Why decaf?  Why oh why would you send me decaf?!  I am the caffeine queen!  I’m not a tea drinker usually, but I do like green tea.  This one promises to be a nice holidayish treat.  Feb 2015 UPDATE: Tried this when my stomach was really upset.  Tasted WONDERFUL; not really like candy cane in my opinion but absolutely pepperminty.  Great cold weather warm up tea!
  • EcoTools Hair Brush: “EcoTools has the brush to tame any hair style with a variety of five brush head shapes and bristle designs specially crafted to suit every need.” The brush I received was a giant round brush that was hollow.  It looks like exactly the kind of tool that you use for a blowout.  I tried that.  My hair turned scary.  Feb 2015 UPDATE: Nope.  Hair still turns scary.
  • McCormick Gourmet Thyme: I DO love to cook!  It’s one of my favorite hobbies.  It’s probably my only creative outlet.  This thyme smells delightful.  I really just want the whole McCormick display case from the store for my home.  I swear I own half of it already… Feb 2015 UPDATE: I used this in a Mustard Chicken Stew Recipe from Epicurious.  It was very tasty, but it didn’t look like the picture and I was too embarrassed to take a picture: mine was, um, brown.
  • Fruit Vines Bites: I got the cherry flavor of these candies.  I have a problem with candy: it disappears really fast.  I have no self-control.  At least this was low-fat and preservative-free, and 150 calories per 10-piece serving.  They’re softer than other “vine-style” candies that are also red (you know the ones I mean) and chewy.  I found myself pulling the little trio of vines apart.   They’re artificially flavored, but the flavor is a pretty good intense cherry flavor.  However, they do have a somewhat plastic flavor that I find off-putting.  I don’t honestly think I’d buy these, but it didn’t stop me from gobbling up the bag…  Feb 2015 UPDATE: haven’t found these locally anywhere.  That’s probably a good thing.

 

I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.

Birchbox, November 2014

This is actually my first beauty blog post in a very long time.  I don’t usually write about my beauty sample subscription obsession, but I realized I actually wanted to start.  I enjoy it!

Birchbox is probably my favorite beauty subscription box of the three that I get, and this month was an interesting one in support of HIV awareness (#shaRED).

Printed on the outside of the boxes was a factoid about HIV.  Mine said “Fact No. 3: Medication can reduce the risk of a mother passing HIV on to her baby to less than 5%.”  That’s a tremendous reduction in risk, and it represents a huge advance in our knowledge and understanding about HIV.  When I was a kid, people were afraid to shake hands with someone who was HIV positive.  Today, thanks to medical research, we understand a lot more about how to treat and manage HIV.  It has become a chronic illness that is manageable.

On to what’s in the box:

 

Product Reviews

@Birchbox November goodies from my #shaRED box!

A post shared by Christina Steel (@miceandmakeup) on

  1. MAKE dual-phase eye makeup remover:  I’ve used this several times because I’m lazy and it’s still in my bedroom.  I saturate a cotton wipe, press to my eyes for 15 seconds, and start wiping off my eye makeup.  This does a good job, but I’m not sure it’s any better than my Neutrogena eye makeup remover.
  2. Laura Mercier eyeliner in violet.  I love Laura Mercier’s products, so I was really excited to get this sample, and it will probably last me years at the rate I use eyeliner.  Violet isn’t my normal color, but I have honestly worn it once and will be wearing it again today.  It applies well–requires a little more force than some I have, but prewarming it with your hand should eliminate that.
  3. Toni & Guy shine serum: I’ve tried this once.  I honestly couldn’t tell any difference, but I will probably try it again.
  4. Juice Beauty green apple peel:  Did it do anything?  I followed the directions and my skin felt tacky-sticky while it was on.  When I rinsed it off, I couldn’t tell any difference.  It’s supposed to be formulated for sensitive skin, and that’s definitely a good description of my skin, but this was perhaps TOO gentle.
  5. Platinumé Gold Hand Therapy: I find the name to be ostentatious.  I find the lotion to be very citrusy and it disappears into my skin pretty much instantly.  Feels wonderful.  Maybe it earned the name!
  6. Chuao chocolatier maple bacon: this was interesting!  It did not have a strip of bacon in it.  The bacon flavor was actually rather subtle; it came through as a sort of smoky saltiness.  Good, actually!

That’s a wrap for this month’s Birchbox products!

 

The Breakfast Search: Revisits & Updates

Since we finished our primary search, we’ve been back to 3 places:

D’Cracked Egg (Chesapeake, VA): still great!  We ate there a couple of weeks ago.  Their normal pancakes are also really good.  The staff remembered us from our ONE prior visit.

Charlie’s Café (Norfolk, VA): very disappointed.  My omelet had asparagus and feta, and the asparagus was undercooked, full-length spears.  It was so oily I had about 3 Tbsp of oil in my plate.  Largely inedible.  Ric’s wasn’t as good either.

Shelton’s Big Grill (Virginia Beach, VA): still great!  We had lunch there last weekend (July 19) and the food was great.  The owner and the waitress both remembered us from our ONE prior visit as well.

The Breakfast Search, Parts 7-10

It’s been several months since I posted about our breakfast quest.  A lot has happened in that time!

We have tried several more restaurants.  I’ll try to take these in order:

Cafe M#7:  Next, we tried Café M in Norfolk.  Ric’s breakfast (his standard for this hunt) was perfectly cooked, but mine was overdone and dry. I ordered a special that day–a baked French toast thing. However, I have to say that EVERYTHING at Café M was homemade–including the bread.  I did not apparently save the receipt (this long?) but it was also one of the less expensive restaurants on our adventure; I think it was around $18. This one is definitely on our try-again list!

905CafeComposite #8 was 905 Café & Grill in Norfolk, VA.  This was absolutely THE WORST dining experience we’ve had.  It took forever to get our coffee, and it was undrinkable.  If you know me, you know I can drink sludge pretty happily, so this was not a good start.  It also took forever to get our food.  Our waitress was new, and they were busy (only 2 wait staff, and ours appeared to be the only one actually working).  But the food was horrible, too.  The best part of my breakfast was the fried green tomato, which tasted like it was cooked in the same oil that is used to fry the fish.  The potatoes were horribly undercooked in places and burnt in others.  Nothing was good, and neither Ric nor I finished our small serving sizes.  Furthermore, it was the most expensive breakfast we’ve had at about $24 (again, receipt missing).  I was actually appalled that we had to pay for that.   I do not ever want to eat there again.  This place was so bad it actually set a new low-bar.

Shelton's Big Grill#9: Shelton’s  Big Grill.  This restaurant wasn’t on our original list of places we wanted to try–it was an impulse.  It turned out to be one of the best breakfasts we’ve had!  It’s located in Virginia Beach.  Ric’s food was cooked perfectly and very tasty.  The French toast was so good I didn’t even add syrup!  The place had a friendly, beachy vibe and was fun and comfortable.  It’s your classic diner.  The total wasn’t bad here, either–I think it was just under $20, and there is a 5% discount if you pay cash (which we did).  We were really impressed!

[photo not available; unplanned] #10: Newtowne Inn in Virginia Beach.  This was actually not our normal pattern; we went out on a Sunday instead of Saturday.  We originally planned to go to Denny’s, but they were packed (no parking), and we had spotted this little hole in the wall on our way, so we backtracked and tried it.  “Hole in the Wall” should be taken literally–it was a dive bar!  Undaunted, we ordered breakfast anyway.  Ric had his standard, and I got an omelet with ham, peppers, and onions (and cheese).  We were really surprised that the food was actually pretty good!  We didn’t think to take pictures–sorry.  It also was reasonably priced at about $20.

We wanted to try at least 10 places that we hadn’t been to before that were local.  We’ve accomplished that.  We may still experiment and visit some more places, and we have a few on the revisit/re-assess list.

 

 

The Breakfast Search, Part 6

Are we really up to 6 weeks’ worth of restaurants?   It’s starting to feel like a lot of work.  Today we went out to Chesapeake to try D’ Cracked Egg.  Ric had heard good things about it from his coworkers and it was his turn to pick the restaurant!  We do have a limit to how far we’re willing to go for breakfast–we have to be able to drive there in about 20 minutes.  I am not a patient morning person.  Just ask anyone.

There were a few tables filled, but there was plenty of space and it wasn’t crowded or noisy.  The restaurant itself was small, but clean and bright.  The coffee was good.  That’s usually a reasonable start to things.

He ordered the breakfast combo, with scrambled eggs, toast, link sausage, and hash browns.  They were quite willing to substitute the hash browns for grits–and that’s good; I’ve never seen Ric eat grits!

I opted for their sweet potato pancake combo, which came with two eggs, bacon, grits, and three large sweet potato pancakes…

dCrackedEgg
It was a LOT of food, but the portion sizes were actually more reasonable than most of the places we’ve been.   The sweet potato pancakes smelled absolutely amazing and tasted as good as they smelled–but there were three of them!  I think I only ate about half.  My eggs were cooked perfectly (I like over-medium).  Ric said his were too, and so were his hash browns; the sausage was very good, and the toast was done on the grill, not in a toaster.   My grits were absolutely drowning in butter (which you can see, and it even sloshed on my leg), but that was pretty minor.

Overall, everything was great–the service and the food–and we’re definitely putting this way up on our list!  It’s kind of tied for 2nd with last week’s breakfast.

dCrackedEggCheckPrice-wise, this came out lower than expected, too, at $21.71.  My meal was $9.99 and was one of the most expensive options on the menu.  But, sweet potato pancakes!

I think it’s safe to say we’ll go back!

 

 

Trying New Things: Plated.com

Plated.com is a meal delivery service.  You get to choose what you want to order.  I drooled over it for several weeks before I decided to try it… and my first box came yesterday!   I recorded an unboxing video before I stored everything for dinner last night…

Coffee Rubbed Steak with Roasted Pepper Panzanella

I was really happy with the minimal packaging, because I hate generating trash.  The cooking was really fun!  The recipe instructions were very simple and straightforward.  I rubbed the steaks in the morning so that they would have about 8 hours to absorb flavor (and  boy, did they).   I also put the steaks out to warm to room temp for a while before cooking (maybe an hour).  I had a wonderful time cooking the meal.  I think it took about 45 minutes, but I wasn’t timing that–I was simultaneously preparing some cookies for dessert, so they had my attention in there, too.

On to the most important part–how did it TASTE?   The steaks weren’t quite as tender as I would have liked, but the spice rub was fantastic!  We had so much panzanella that nobody made it through their “plate serving” sized portion.  It was really good too.  Personally, I would have preferred a bit more vinegar, but I wanted to make it as described without modifications.   Pity we had so much panzanella left.  I just ate it for my lunch today–and it was just as good!

Was it worth it?  Yes.  Absolutely.  The food quality was great.  I’ve had meals in restaurants that weren’t as good (and I paid more for them).  The portion size was… generous.  Yes, that’s a good word for “we got 6 meals off of a 4-plate order.”  The flavor was fantastic!  I did figure out that this would be very easy to replicate on my own–and I might.   In the meantime, we’re definitely going to use the service again and try some more meals!

The Breakfast Search, Part 5

Today is the 4th week we’ve managed to go out hunting for a good breakfast spot in Hampton Roads.  We tried Charlie’s Café on Granby Street.  The weather was lovely, so we actually sat outside (which is pretty much just the sidewalk on a fairly busy street).  It was really pleasant.

The coffee was Folgers, nothing special, but drinkable.CharliesCafe

Ric ordered the usual: scrambled eggs with cheese, sausage (patties), pancakes.

I ordered the Café Cristo omelet (I think that was the name), with turkey, onions, tomatoes, and swiss.  I opted for a biscuit as one of my sides and the homemade applesauce as my other side.  While the applesauce was quite good, the biscuit had a chewy texture that made me think it had been frozen.  The omelet was extremely fluffy and I couldn’t eat the whole thing!  The pancakes were okay–they were very pretty and smelled good but were more bland than I expected from the smell.

Overall, breakfast ran $22.57.  It was definitely the most pleasant breakfast experience that we’ve had so far, and we want to come back (already).

CharliesCafeCheck

 

The Breakfast Search, part 4

I know I’ll have to retro-post part 3.  I’ll do that next, I promise.

This weekend, we tried the BelAire Pancake House on E Little Creek.  It’s been there… forever, though management/ownership has changed a few times.  I haven’t eaten there since the 90s, I think… and the interior hadn’t changed much at all from what I remembered–same soft spots in the floor and the interior layout and décor matched my vague memories.  The menu was fairly extensive and featured some interesting omelet options… though I’m permanently steering clear of feta-and-French-fry options.   I was not in the mood for a protein-heavy breakfast today.

BelAire Pancake House
BelAire Pancake House

So, I ordered the Paradise Waffle, which came with strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream.  The strawberries were clearly frozen and then thawed.  I actually appreciated that–most places just glop pie filling on.  The bananas had a weird greyish color that usually happens after refrigeration, so I suspect they were pre-sliced and refrigerated, but they had good texture and tasted fine.

The coffee was not good.  I added a French vanilla creamer to it.

Ric’s breakfast was two scrambled eggs with cheese, polish sausage, toast, and home fries.  He said most of it (except the polish sausage) was slightly undercooked.

Overall, though the food was okay, it was just that: okay.  Underwhelming.  Bland. BelAire check

The check was $22.69 before tip.

General impression: meh.  Not going to rush back, but the menu variety is intriguing enough that we’ll probably give it a second try.

The Breakfast Search, Part 3

Okay, this week was my choice of restaurants.  I opted for the Sandfiddler Café on Ocean View.  The online reviews were pretty good.  The décor was beachy, and most of the art on the walls was for sale (though not my taste).  It was crowded and noisy, but we didn’t have to wait for a table.

I ordered a breakfast burrito with ham, which is definitely unusual for me.  I’m not usually a burrito person, but this sounded weirdly good this morning.  I also ordered a side of pancakes, because, well, pancakes.

Sandfiddler Café Breakfast

The food was good.  The salsa in my burrito tasted like Pace Picante sauce and the pancakes tasted like they were just normal mix–nothing really special.  The syrup was just standard fake maple syrup.  I did enjoy the breakfast burrito, though! And the oranges–I ate my garnish.  They were a great complement.

Ric got scrambled eggs with cheese, hash browns, toast, bacon, and link sausage.  He was happy with his food too, overall.

At $24.45, this was on the high side for breakfast.SandfiddlerCafe Check

 
SandfiddlerCafe Check

The Breakfast Search, part 2

This weekend, we tried the Little Creek Diner.  It has been reviewed online before, so I don’t know that this adds much to what is already out there.  The outside always put me off, but the inside was considerably nicer.  It felt like a little family restaurant.  I liked the mural on the wall and the people were friendly.  Most were regulars.

That said, Ric ordered eggs scrambled with cheese, toast, and sausage patties.   The dish came with home fries.

Little Creek Diner Breakfast

I opted for Voula’s Omelet, which was listed as containing “feta and FF.”  I wasn’t sure what FF was.  Yes, I know I could have asked, but I like trying new things!  It came with toast and I opted for grits instead of home fries.

I was very surprised when “FF” turned out not to be fresh fruit but FRENCH FRIES.  There were French fries in the omelet.  With eggs and feta. Let me be clear: I am not a huge fan of French fries.  I don’t usually eat a medium order of McDonald’s fries.  IN my eggs?  I was not thrilled.   However, I do love Spanish tortillas.  So it’s not like the idea of potatoes in my eggs scares me, but French fries?  I tried it anyway.  I did not love the combination.  The bites of egg with feta were very enjoyable.  Bites with egg, feta, and fry were pretty okay.  Bites with just egg and fry–that I did not like.  I can’t tell you if it’s good or bad–it just wasn’t a food that I would order again based on my preferences.  My toast was okay, but a bit soggy (butter does that pretty quickly.  The unbuttered side was not soggy).  The grits were cooked great!

Overall impression: this wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. Part of that was my food choice. Was I upset? NO!  That’s part of being willing to try stuff: there’s always a risk I won’t like it, even if it’s cooked marvelously.  Shhh-we won’t talk about Brussels sprouts.  That is not the fault of the cook or the server and it is not the responsibility of the restaurant: I chose it, and I ate it!   I am totally willing to come back and try again with something different.  I’d also love to try their gyros for lunch some time!