29 May 2012

Lush-ious Living

I've outlined my love affair with Lush both here and here. And the love continues. If a Lush store is near you (and by "near" I mean in the same hemisphere), grab some snacks, pack up the kids and/or dogs, get your girlfriends together, book a hotel if you must, but get yourself to this store!

Bottom line: these are homemade, green, not animal tested products (some VEGAN) in completely recyclable materials. Even the little yellow bags for soap samples are made for your compost pile. Plus, save your product pots (see below) and for every 5 you return you get a FREE needs-to-be-refrigerated-because-that's-how-fresh-it-is face mask. 

Do the products work? Hell yes. Way better than my soy milk spray conditioner or Neutrogena lotion or Dove volumizing shampoo. Those are all good products at cheaper prices but the results aren't nearly as excellent and you need to use more product to get the same amount of cleanliness. I still love my Benefit facial regime (another post for another day) but at heart I'm a Lushie.

Let me outline my favorite parts about the store once again so you know what to expect:
1. Samples of anything that's not in a bottle. 3 per customer. Bring a guy so you can get 6.
2. The face on your bottle or pot is the person who made your product. There's also an 18month expiration date.
3. 30 day return policy. Lush will take back or exchange any product you try, no matter how much you used, as long as you have a RECEIPT. It's the truth: I've done it twice.
4. Ask questions and let the employees try stuff on you. Your first few visits to Lush will be trial and error. Finding what works for you requires talking to the helpful employees, getting samples, and actually using them.
5. You can order online. So let's say you visit the Big City for a vacation, get a bunch of samples from Lush, fall in love (which you're bound to do), but there isn't one near you. Visit their website and order at your heart's content.

I've turned my husband into a Lushie as well and thus we've been trying and buying more products as of late. Here's what he LOVES:
Dirty Shower Gel: smells amazing and lasts forever. Michael still can't get over how much lather he gets from a little bit verses the Old Spice Shower Gel he was using. And his skin feels great. (you see why I encourage this?!)

Curly Wurly shampoo in a pot. Since oil has a hard time reaching the ends of curly hair it gets dry. CW takes care of that and makes curls more manageable.
American Cream conditioner: the second lightest conditioner they have, super moisturizing and helps control frizz. I tried Veganese but unfortunately it made my hair frizzier and limp-- AC is what I like as well.

Ro's Argan is a new product Lush just released. It's a rose conditioner for your skin, so apply all over after using the shower gel. It makes your skin super soft and glowy (new word!). I'm not using it because the scent was too much for me.
Dream Cream Lotion: light, oil-free, and extremely luxurious. I like it better than the Charity Pot.

We've been experimenting w/ Lush bar soaps after noticing how much Bath & Body Works dried out our hands (and that's with the moisturizing soap). When we mentioned this to my mother-in-law, she told us how the kids (her 10 & 11 year old) love using Whoosh as soap. It's for the shower too, but soap is soap and you only need the teeny tiniest bit for your hands; not to mention... it feels like Jell-O!

Michael and I have been sharing Prince. It's a shaving cream that doesn't foam or anything, but is extremely soothing and soft on your skin. Like all Lush products: you don't need a lot, just enough to lightly cover the area that has hair. Also, it smells amazing.
**Note: Because it's so light, Prince is hard to see on the skin. Also, you'll need to do a lot of sluicing as its thickness clogs up your razor.

Here's what I'm using...
Dreamwash is a shower smoothie, aka a creamy, uber moisturizing soap for your skin. Here's the thing about shower smoothies: technically, they're just like shower gels but in my opinion, you need to use a lot more to feel clean. I exchanged the Almond Coconut Smoothie for another bottle of my Daddy-O shampoo, but then Michael told me how bright my skin looked every time I used the smoothie. Dilemma. So I picked up DW-- a lavender smoothie that should help my skin's bumps and redness-- with the express purpose to use it like a body conditioner: sparingly and making it last. So that's my plan.

I know I talked about The Big Tease back in February but I'm still 100% in love with this hair product. It's clean, is my favorite scent of all, and truly boosts my fine blond locks. I've had it since mid-January and look how much is left! I'm just about halfway.

A couple things we had trouble with... The shampoo bars. Michael tried a couple and one, which was meant for cancer patients trying to grow back their hair, overstimulated his scalp so much that his hair started falling out! The second one he tried worked well but didn't produce the results of Curly Wurly. This is why asking questions is key.

Yes, Lush products are expensive up front. But looking at the big picture, they last much longer than normal shower gels. I'm almost halfway thru my $30 bottle of Happy Hippy Shower Gel that I got in December-- I only need a dime sized amount and shower once a day. Fortunately, I have a husband who shares my desire for better living and taking care of our skin now so we look amazing when we're 70. Investing in such products makes me want to invest in myself to not only look healthy on the outside but also on the inside, as well as wanting to do my part to reduce my carbon footprint. These are all baby steps but every penny I put toward products and companies that benefit this world is a VOTE toward more companies following suit. 

27 May 2012

Dark Shadows

My review comes a bit late-- especially considering I saw the movie last Sunday-- but I felt it was necessary to share my opinion anyway.
DISCLAIMER: this review is my opinion and I am in no way claiming my words are fact. Please don't be offended if you disagree: we can still be friends.

For those of you who missed the trailer, Dark Shadows is an adaptation of the TV series (never saw it) and follows the story of Barnabus Collins, a man cursed to be a vampire by a woman he spurned and who happened to be a witch. Brings a new meaning to that "hell hath no fury" business, doesn't it?

Anyway, Barnabus gets locked in a coffin for 200 years while the witch continues to curse his descendants over the generations. Once accidentally released in 1972, he returns to bring honor and prosperity back to his family, fight the witch, etc etc. It's directed by Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland, Edward Scissorhands) and stars Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and other actors whose films I've enjoyed but the names escape me. Full cast listing here.

Basically, I want the $22 my husband and I spent to see the movie returned, and if time travel was a thing I'd ask for those 2 hours back as well. Don't misunderstand, Dark Shadows isn't a "bad" film in the normal sense of acting or production value. It's BORING, which is worse than cheesy films because you can't laugh off boring. The actors knew what they were doing and everything looked pasty with bright pops of color like a typical Burton film. However, the story also makes absolutely no sense.  As someone attempting to break into the Biz as a screenwriter, plot holes, inconsistencies, bad dialogue, and things that just plain don't make any sense are all visible to me when I watch films like Dark Shadows. For example, some questions come to mind:

How is Barnabus Collins able to have descendants in the first place when he never married or impregnated anyone and had no siblings that we know of? (that stuff should, by the rules of story telling, be explained)

What is the witch's motivation behind tormenting Barnabus's family? It's not like he knew or she was going to dig him up and tell him. So what's the point inflicting pain when your victim is ignorant of it in the first place?

**NOTE: I have WAY more points but won't reveal them here because they'd give away the rest of the film-- and that's just mean. Message me if you want to keep discussing the movie: Lord knows I LOVE discussions.

Anyway, something to understand about good film/TV: everything means something. A moment with a faulty projector screen remote will be the key to solving the murder. A woman asking for a second teapot not only implies the first one was poisoned but that she's also in far more danger than she knows. In DS, there's a moment at the beginning where Barnabus is researching the occult-- a completely pointless scene since his research leads to NOTHING, not discovering the witch, not becoming a vampire, not finding a way to dismantle the curse. The movie is filled with these moments... that I can't mention since it would spoil things. GAH!

While the film is supposed to have the theme of a family's unshakable bond, the most interesting relationship dynamic is between Johnny Depp and Eva Green (the witch). The family is royally dysfunctional-- which is fine-- but there's no indication of deeper love, loyalty, or connection despite their faults. It doesn't work. There's no chemistry between anyone-- not even Depp and his love interest-- which makes everything awkward.

Honestly, as portrayed by this AMAZING College Humor video, Tim Burton's Secret Formula of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Danny Elfman, white makeup, black costumes, and a sweetly creepy scenario is TIRED. Separately, these people are extremely talented and when first brought together they created films we'd never experienced. Now it's been done (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and redone (Alice in Wonderland) and re-redone (Sweeney Todd) and overdone (Dark Shadows). Actually, with the exception of Sweeney Todd which I did not see, I didn't like any of these films and would love to see Burton walk away from the tired muse of his wife and Depp and go back to other actors and produce films like Big Fish, Beetlejuice, and Batman. Yes, Burton loves his black & white motif with a horror theme, but this shit is getting redundant. Hell, my review is getting redundant because that's how ridiculous Dark Shadows was.

I had high hopes for the film, thought it would be funny and weird... not so much. Maybe next time?

In summary: Rent Dark Shadows, don't pay theater prices.

P.S. Helena Bonham Carter is quite beautiful. Check out her IMDB photo.

26 May 2012

Breakfast Quinoa

Remember when Martha Stewart got sent to jail and the world thought that was the end of her empire? Little did they know Ms. Stewart would come back with a vengeance. And frankly, I'm glad she did otherwise I wouldn't have this fabulous quinoa recipe to share with you.

This is great for people who love Cream of Wheat but want something that's... you know... nutritious and will fill you up til lunch. Martha adds blueberries or you could use banana, strawberries, apples, peaches, and MAYBE mango-- any fruit that compliments the brown sugar and cinnamon. The thing about blueberries-- and if you've ever tried polishing off a carton of them you'd know-- is the flavor inconsistency: some taste sweet and perfect while others taste like feet. You're playing Russian roulette with your taste buds and it's a dangerous game.

To make this even healthier and experiment with a dairy-free option, I used unflavored almond milk and followed the directions like so. My friend Amanda-- the amazing woman who sent me the link in the first place-- made hers with soy milk. You have options, people!

Mmmmm.... creamy, sweet, nutty, and far better than Cream of Wheat. Did I mention how fast and easy (like a breakfast time hooker) this is?

On a side note: how amazing are these photos with my new iPhone 4S?! Still waiting on my overall ruling of the phone-- which I will review in the coming weeks-- but I heart the camera. 

Happy Cooking!!

Breakfast Quinoa (from Martha Stewart)

2 cups Almond Milk, original flavor
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
3 Tbsp light brown sugar, plus extra for garnish
1/8 Tsp ground cinnamon, plus extra for garnish
1 cup Fresh Blueberries (1/2 pint)-- or fruit of your choice-- plus extra for garnish

... and lots of LOVE for your body, your health, and your family :)

Bring milk to a boil in a small saucepan. Add rinsed quinoa, return to boil then reduce heat and let simmer, covered until most of the liquid is cooked down, about 15 minutes.

Add brown sugar and cinnamon, recover and let simmer 8 more minutes or until most of the liquid is gone. Toss in the blueberries and heat for 30 seconds. Serve with brown sugar, cinnamon, and more berries as garnish.

24 May 2012

Peanut Butter Chocolate Squares

Every time I use the oven in our apartment it's as if I've called upon the heating power of the Sun. Now that it's averaging 85 outside, me making dishes like Mexican stuffed shells, Southwest Egg Rolls, and Hot Ham and Cheese buns is akin to baking myself with the food. And forget about cookies.

Dessert is a real issue because I have a ridiculous sweet tooth, strongly dislike store bought cookies and pastries, and certainly can't bake anything at the moment. What's a gal to do? Then I came across this Kraft recipe and heard the Hallelujah chorus singing the praises of a no-bake treat incorporating peanut butter and chocolate. So I had to try them.

Not only do these babies not use an oven, but you don't even need to use the stove! Just pop everything that needs melting (aka butter and chocolate) into the microwave. To make these SORT OF healthier, I used natural peanut butter consisting of peanuts and salt rather than a brand like Skippy, Kraft, or JIF filled with preservatives and sugar. If you keep yours in the fridge like I do, just microwave it for 10-15 seconds to soften.

One thing the recipe mentions is "precutting" or outlining squares in the melted chocolate before refrigerating. Me being an expert at cooking, I thought that was totally unnecessary and didn't follow directions so when it came time to cut them, the hardened chocolate caused a bunch of random breaks. Lesson learned.

How do they look?

Are you drooling yet? 

Yes, they taste as good as they look.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Squares

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
2 cups powdered sugar
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup all-natural peanut butter
1-1/2 pkgs semi-sweet baking squares (12 squares total)

Line a 9x13 dish with foil, folding it over the sides.

Melt the butter in a large microwave safe bowl on HIGH for 45 seconds. If there are still chunks, continue melting at 10-20 second intervals.

Add powdered sugar, graham cracker crumbs, and peanut butter. Mix well. Use your hands if you need to... I did ;) Lay out and press down in the dish then let chill for a several minutes while you prepare the chocolate.

Unwrap and break all the squares in half. Put them all in another microwave safe bowl and cook on HIGH for 2-3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. Spread over peanut butter then precut squares in the soft chocolate. Refrigerate 1 hour then serve.

22 May 2012

All Hail "The Sandwich"

There’s nothing better than a good sandwich. Okay so that might be an exaggeration but seriously, a good sandwich is priceless. The basic idea of sandwiches was GENIUS: use bread flavored with condiments to hold together meat, cheese, and (optional) vegetables. It’s easy to make, portable, and there are endless flavor combinations.

I didn’t always like sandwiches, though (gasp!). God love her, my mom made terrible sandwiches for school lunches, with the exception of peanut butter and jelly and tuna salad. I would thank my lucky stars for pizza nights because my parents would order enough to eat leftovers for lunch the next day!

For years, the sandwiches consisted of Miracle Whip, white bread, meat, and cheese. To me, any form of mayonnaise not disguised by a bunch of other ingredients is a sin: I still to this day NEVER use it as a condiment unless I’m making tuna sandwiches: my one exception. White bread—even from my uncle’s bakery—is not my first (or third or fifth) choice for bread: I’m a whole-wheat kinda gal.

So what’s wrong with meat and cheese? Well, nothing’s wrong with lunchmeat—I’m partial to ham and roast beef—and cheeses like Swiss and Provolone. However, my mom loved her olive loaf (yes that’s a real thing), pickle loaf (hated all things pickled until a couple years ago… and I’m still cautious around the “P” word), American cheese which is NOT cheese, and liver sausage: the worst food creation known to man. And if a sandwich consisting of white bread, a generous heap of mayo, and liver sausage wasn’t bad enough, my mom would slap on pickle relish—a condiment I have never and will never like. The Perfect Storm of nauseating sandwich horribleness.

Middle school hit and I demanded to make my own sandwiches, using mustard, ham or turkey, Swiss, and lettuce and tomato. There’s something about the crunch of fresh vegetables that make a sandwich delightful. My point? Good sandwiches are not easy. Some chefs claim it’s in the bread, others the ingredients, and others in the preparation (hot/cold/roasted/grilled)—I say it’s everything.

So what’s my favorite sandwich? Well, I could never decide on all the delicious restaurant options, but my favorite make-at-home amateur sandwich is Peanut Butter Honey and Banana on Wheat. Though I make a mean Panini and an even meaner grilled cheese, I could eat PBHB sandwiches pretty much every day. They’re sweet, salty, fruity: amazing.

How do you like your sandwiches? Are you as picky as I am? Do you hate them with every fiber of your being?

17 May 2012

Me vs. Them

I’m back from my unintentional hiatus! I’ve missed you, dear readers, and I’m sorry for disappearing the last two or so weeks. As you can see, I’ve added Google Adsense to make a little (VERY little) DOE on the side while I continue my ongoing fight into the Hollywood Industry.

And that’s what it is… a fight. In one corner are the ever looming and always biased Film Execs, trying hard to control the product (movies & TV), the people who make it (aka writers, directors, etc.), and the money. In the other corner are me and Michael—nobodies from the Midwest—and our coach: God. I’m confident.

This slow and steady process has a few many hurtles to overcome. Back at Freshmen College Orientation (so… fall 2003… dear God, has it been that long?) the ever-useless academic counselors advised the naïve students—who’d already paid their tuition—that only 1% of us would “make it.” Of course, this included major changes, drop-outs, people who change their career path, but it’s still a pretty sad statistic.

Oddly enough, that didn’t deter me and here I am today: a “nobody” in LA… but I’m HERE. Getting to LA is half the battle. Staying in LA is the other half. The rest is all networking. Though Columbia College doesn’t have job placement (what Arts school does?), they do have the Semester in LA program, which, if you’re a current film student, you should 100% sign up for it. The program not only gets you to LA, but you also work with a tight-nit group of people who’ll become the start of your network (a second family), and more times than not it’ll get you an internship which will most likely lead to a job.

I missed out on that opportunity; however, I got married, stayed in Chicago longer, lived in beautiful Appleton, and got closer with Michael’s family. The four-year gap hurt those friendships I made in college, yet I feel like I have a shit load of life experience under my belt that has added confidence to my writing, my self, and taught me to appreciate both the fast-paced and slow-paced ways of life.

However, building a network almost from scratch is difficult, especially in a town where everyone’s out for their own gain and trusting the wrong person could mean the loss of millions of dollars and amazing opportunities. People in LA are cautious. If you know someone in the Film Industry it’s tough to get in. If you don’t know someone in the Film Industry it’s that much tougher. The overnight success stories (an ironic term considering how long the process to get the film funded, made, and distributed actually is) of films like Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, and Bridesmaids is a one in a million shot. Making the success stick is one in a hundred million.

Wow… rereading this I realize how pessimistic this must sound. And although I know all of these frustrating things, the need to push on remains because writing is something I love. Not just writing but creative writing… writing scripts! It’s damn fun because writing is utterly limitless—the limits of imagination are the only limits for the initial draft. Of course, once you finish, the limits of time (features should be between 90 to 120 pages, each page representing one minute of the film). But revising is half the fun :)

Anyway, I just wanted to share with you some of the CHALLENGES of becoming a screenwriter. Oh… wait… I didn’t tell you that I’ve decided that screenwriting is where my skills and talents lie, so that’s what I’m pursuing.  I have a business card so you know it’s official. It’s nice to have focus—thank you God. I’m nervous, excited, thrilled with the challenges. I tend to do things the hard way—not necessarily the best way—so breaking barriers is nothing new.

I hope to share more about my creative process down the road and tell you more about the opportunities that come my way.

04 May 2012

The Avengers Movie

Kicking off Summer Blockbuster season is the much anticipated Avengers, where we watch many of our favorite Marvel superheroes finally, if not reluctantly, team up to do what heroes do best: save the world. Okay, so that's the basic plot, nothing out of the ordinary or too complex mainly because you're dealing with a large cast of leading men, as well as more famous actors and actresses playing side characters and villains. The writers were careful not to overdue the complexities of plots and subplots as it would be an overwhelming amount of information. And of course, because of all the previous films for each superhero, the time that would have been spent on backstory is now spent on action and the explanation of how Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Ironman come together as a team.

Joss Whedon-- director and writer of all things nerdy (Buffy, Serenity, Firefly, Dollhouse, Angel... did you also know he's one of the writers for the Toy Story screenplay?!)-- did a wonderful job expressing his enthusiasm for action-filled Comic Book films peppered with one-liners, his obvious goal being BALANCE. A film with an ensemble cast of heavy-hitters like Robert Downey Jr, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo (etc etc) requires balance in every aspect: screen time, action sequences, dialogue, story, and characterization (aka each person gets to have their moment). From the pacing to the teamwork, Whedon satisfies every fan who wants to see his or her favorite character kick some butt.

And let's not forget about FX. One of the best things about evolving computer technology (besides advances in medicine, defense, & education) is the freedom in filmmaking to create and destroy stuff. These FX artists made the amazing floating battleship that is S.H.I.E.L.D. far more impressive than what I've seen in comics, cartoons, and video games, yet stayed true to the layout and overall look.  At the same time, poor NYC (what a surprise) was torn apart during a thrilling 40 or so minute battle sequence that was nothing short of engaging. It does make me feel bad for New York though, that city and LA get beaten up all the time in movies. Yet look how much more Whedon and his crew can give us moviegoers with CG technology-- the Avengers wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago... or at least not a good quality version.

Overall, as an intelligent individual capable of making smart decisions, you will ultimately know whether or not a film like Avengers is right for you. If you're not a fan of explosion littered action films or superhero movies, you might want to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (also on my list to watch and review), Last Call at the Oasis, or take in Hunger Games one more time. Personally, I loved it and can't wait to see the movie again. I think we all know not to expect the likes of The Dark Knight or Inception, but you can expect plenty of action, entertainment, and a great cinematic ride from beginning to end.

P.S. STAY FOR THE CREDITS ALL THE WAY UNTIL THEY END!!!  There are 2 bonus scenes.

01 May 2012

Sombrero Pasta Salad

In food terms, Summertime signifies fruit salad, grilling burgers, picnics, and most of all... pasta salad. I love pasta salads because they don't require an oven, are easy to time manage (chop all the veggies while the pasta boils), and the recipes are always crowd-size.

This excellent and flavorful pasta salad comes from Taste of Home, though I found the recipe on Pinterest. However, I know this carb-filled dish doesn't scream "HEALTHY!!!" but there are plenty of ways to improve the recipe.  Look for tips underneath recipe.

So, if you need to bring a side dish to this weekend's Cinco de Mayo celebration or want a main dish that's different from the usual tacos and quesadillas, the Sombrero Pasta Salad is a great option. Not mention attractive:


1 pound spiral pasta, cooked as directed
1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup water
1 packet taco seasoning 
16oz bottle Catalina or Western salad dressing
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 - 15oz cans sliced black olives, drained
8oz (2 cups) shredded cheddar cheese

Make pasta according to package directions. Heat a large skillet and crumble & cook meat until browned. Drain. Add water and taco seasoning, simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Once pasta and meat are cooked, toss in a bowl with all the other ingredients, add dressing and mix well. Serve immediately... or let flavors marinate over night-- your choice :)

Cooking Tips:

1. To lower fat content, buy sirloin/ super lean ground beef OR ground turkey. I used 90% lean, 7% fat ground beef.

2. Organic whole wheat pasta is a great choice when wanting to avoid overly processed carbs, as well as fiber to your diet. Plus it's much more filling.  Look for store (generic) brand option and make sure it's the full 16oz, not 12 or 14 (companies are tricky like that).

3. Use low sodium dressing and canned olive options.

4. To really drop sodium, sugars, and preservatives, I made homemade Catalina Dressing from ingredients I already had around the house. As a way to boost this recipe, try using organic ketchup and a more natural sweetener than sugar. I've replaced the sugar in our house with unrefined Zulka Azucar Morena-- crystallized cane juice.

5. Another sodium/chemical decreaser (new word!) is making homemade taco seasoning. This recipe makes extra so be sure to put the rest in a sealed container like these great Pampered Chef Prep Bowls. Use 2 Tbsp.

6. The recipe has you add raw onion but I sautéed mine because I didn't want to taste onion for the rest of the day. You might also consider substituting a bunch of green onions. Same with the tomato-- you could definitely substitute a half to a whole container of cherry tomatoes.

7. The cheese seems optional in my opinion-- next time I make the salad I'll omit the cheese and see if it makes a difference. Or you could use shredded Manchenga or crumbled Queso Fresco for a more Mexican flavor.

8. And finally... for added flavor, toss in half a bunch of chopped cilantro!!! You were waiting for my cilantro reference, weren't you?

Happy Cooking and Eat Well.