19 April 2014

making faces :: drops of sunshine from nars, urban decay and chantecaille

if i hear one more person tell me that the temperatures are finally "seasonal" around these parts, i'm going to scream. it is true that we are finally reaching the mid-teens [celsius], which is average for april, but one has to take into consideration that that average includes the days at the beginning of the month which tend to be in the single digits. therefore, the fact that, in the final half of the month, we are finally stringing together a few days that are at [or just below, really] the average for the entire month means that it is still cold.

plus of course, there's that old adage about "april showers", which means that we've been faced with long sunless stretches peppered with rain, which makes things seem much more bleak than they probably are. it's not been the most memorable spring thus far, even though it's been pleasant and hopeful on many fronts. it's just hard to remember hopeful things when your mind registers an endless expanse of grey.

but in order to keep spirits up, i have been trying to manufacture my own kind of sunshine, as artificial as it may be. i thought i'd post some shots of a look i did recently that, i think, is very in keeping with the feeling of spring, of the bright, fresh colours we're supposed to be seeing and the refreshed feeling we're supposed to have. the day i wore this, i went to meet a friend for coffee and had to wear my winter coat, hat and gloves. however i did see crocuses [which got blanketed with snow later that week]. this is my impression of being an optimist. i'm really trying here.

COME SEE MY COSMETIC SUNSHINE...

15 April 2014

culinating :: tops in tofu

poor tofu. it's gotten a bad wrap because people believe it's just hippie filler pretending to be meat. in fact, soy bean curd is quite lovely and is no more bland or forgettable than the water-chilled chicken breasts served up at many restaurants. the thing about tofu is, you want to combine it with other flavours, so that it can provide a solid base, but not have to play the starring role.

personally, i'm a little picky about tofu. for whatever reason, i really dislike the texture when crumbled, but i love it when it's properly cubed and sautéed with vegetables and noodles or rice in a stir fry. i honestly can't remember ever baking it before, but this past weekend, i was invited to a potluck supper and you can't very well stir fry at one of those. when you're going to someone else's house bearing a tray of food, the most you can hope is that someone will be able to stick your offering in a warm oven for ten minutes before it's dinner time.

since vegetarian options seemed a little thin on the sign-up list, i thought of making a tofu dish. i had an idea from something i'd found on pinterest a few days before that sounded manageable and since i had heard that there would be vegetarians present, i figured that they'd likely be forced to eat what i had on offer anyway. [as it turns out, someone made really delicious felafel as well, which just goes to show that it's much easier to feed vegetarians and vegans than you might have thought.]

one of the nice things about working with tofu- also one of the reasons why i suspect a lot of people like working with chicken breasts- is that it can take on the taste of whatever you put it with. it helps if you marinate it for a little while, but you don't need anything like the time it takes to marinate meat. half an hour should be fine to allow the flavours to permeate the soy tissue. plus, because there aren't any salmonella concerns with tofu [unless you're doing things very wrong], you can toss it, marinate it and bake it in the same liquid without fear for your safety.

this dish is a sort of "kitchen sink special". the recipe i used can be found here, but there are a few little points that i think add to the end product:


  • the tofu should marinate for about half an hour. five minutes doesn't let the flavours be absorbed. 
  • i used more ketchup than the recipe calls for- roughly equivalent to the amount of soy sauce. i found that this made the dish more tangy and less salty. if you like your saltiness, feel free to disregard this advice. 
  • i used more maple syrup as well- probably double the quantity called for. i didn't find this made it overly sweet and it helped to bring out the delicate maple flavour. if you find it gets too sweet for your taste, by all means add soy sauce. 
  • i used fresh minced garlic instead of garlic powder. the choice is yours. i think that using chili-garlic sauce would be a great way to add heat as well. 
  • be extremely careful with the liquid smoke. it's a miraculous product that really does add a smoky flavour to dishes, but it's really easy to overdo it, which results in your dish tasting like it fell onto live barbeque coals. i recommend adding this in small increments, blending well and tasting the sauce to see if it needs more. 
  • although it doesn't specify doing so in the recipe, pour all the sauce into the pan with the tofu. the sauce will sort of caramelize in the oven while at the same time keeping the tofu from drying out. it's miraculous. 

the best part is that even meat eaters seem to enjoy this, at least if the "after" photo taken above is any indication. that's pretty remarkable, given that this isn't a case where you're disguising the true "tofu-ness". you're just allowing it to be itself. but itself on a first date, when it really wants to make a good impression.

served at home, i think it would go really well with either basmati/ jasmine rice or steamed vegetables. there's a lot of flavours going on, so i wouldn't necessarily recommend pairing it with anything that will compete, but it is also a great, simple option if you're invited to bring food along to a party. or if you just want to bring some as a surprise.

14 April 2014

mental health mondays :: it sees you when you're sleeping

now you know my bed time.
this is the second in a continuing series of commentaries/ reviews on mental health-oriented apps. while our phones and tablets may not have evolved to the point where they can read our state of mind from our palm print and inject us with the appropriate drugs [i'm certain that's what's coming on the iphone 6], there are a lot of apps out there that are designed to help you make little adjustments on your brain. this week, we're looking at an app called "sleep time". in case you hadn't heard, sleep is one of the most important factors in mental health. sleep deprivation on its own is classified as a mental disorder and it's a symptom of many others. also, one of the biggest problems that is caused by the various sorts of crazy meds is the disruption of sleep cycles that they can cause. so getting yourself to an optimum sleeping schedule is incredibly important for your mental health.

as you might guess, this app is designed to help you with your sleep cycle, monitoring you and helping you figure out if you're getting the quality and quantity of sleep you need. i downloaded the free version to see what i thought of the application before committing to the paid one. this is pretty cheap of me, since the paid version is only $1.99 and has considerably more options- which we'll get to later.

the concept of the app is pretty neat: it uses the built-in accelerometer in your phone to register the subtle movements of your body as you sleep. [if you're not sure what an accelerometer does, here's a primer.] on the one hand, it's kind of like a super-spiffy alarm clock- it'll wake you with your choice of tones within a thirty minute window that you specify. the idea of giving you that window is that "sleep time" will measure when you are in your lightest stage of sleep and wake you then, rather than when you're in a deep sleep and will have more trouble emerging from the haze. if you set your alarm for seven, "sleep time" will awaken you sometime between six-thirty and seven, based on when it thinks you'll be most able to handle the experience.

but that's not all "sleep time" can do. it also graphs your sleep cycle, so that in the morning, you can see how much time you spent awake, in light sleep and in deep sleep. it analyses your "sleep efficiency", or whether or not you're getting the proper amount of each type of sleep. on the free version, you can store five days [or nights] worth of data and on the paid version, you get unlimited storage. of course, if you want to preserve your data, you can also just take a screen shot of the day's [or night's] graph. the data is displayed by week and by day, so you can see how you're doing on an ongoing basis and helps you determine if going to bed at a certain time allows you to get more or better sleep. you'll want to track your energy levels and mood on your own, or else the data isn't going to be as useful as it might otherwise be, especially if you suffer from a mental or mood disorder.

if you'd like, "sleep time" will also play soothing sounds to help relax you and encourage you to sleep. it'll even make sure that when the sounds stop [which you program], they gradually disappear as opposed to cut off sharply, so that there is no jarring change in the ambient noise that might cause you to awaken. i'll be honest, i haven't used that function, because there's only one soundscape available on the free version. while i'm sure that gentle waves are incredibly soothing to most people, i'm never able to overcome the nagging fear that listening to such things is pure new age silliness and that thought would keep me up at night. also, i would have to choose between sleeping with earphones, which is uncomfortable, or treating dom to my soundscape and thus having him confirm that what i was doing was new age silliness. the paid version of the app has more soundscapes available, possibly something a little less cliche.

that's the app in a nutshell, but the real question is... how well does it work? to that i say: i didn't shell out the two bucks for the paid version.

i love the concept of this app. i love being able to see my sleep categorized and graphed and organised for me to interpret. but one of the stumbling blocks is that the app doesn't actually help you interpret. it doesn't explain what sleep efficiency is or how it is calculated and without that, it becomes difficult to put the information to any practical use. i checked on line and found out that anywhere north of 85% is what you should be aiming for, but again, that's something i did on my own. i would really prefer to have the information on how to use the data included in the app itself.

there are also a few logistical quirks that make it a bit finicky to work with. the first and most obvious one is that you have to sleep with your phone [or tablet] in the bed with you. as a lifelong restless sleeper and the indentured servant of five cats, this makes me nervous. and yes, at least once, my phone ended up registering the sleep cycle of my floor. still not sure who was responsible for that.

you also have to be careful about where you place the device. the app advises that you put it near your pillow, but this doesn't quite seem to cut it. what you really want is to place it near your head. that means that you can't have your head propped up on a lot of pillows, because that puts too much distance between you and the phone/ tablet. if you share your bed with someone else, that's fine, but clearly you want to make sure that you put your phone on the outside- not between the two of you. you also have to make sure that the device is close to your head, but not in a position where it can accidentally slide under your pillow. that's trickier than you might think.

the reason that you will want to be very cautious about placement is that the accuracy of the readings varies wildly depending on it and herein lies my biggest issue with the app. whether because it is too sensitive or not sensitive enough, the data just isn't as reliable as i'd hope. placement has a lot to do with it, but there are also some pretty serious inconsistencies that i can't attribute to just bad geography. the first night that i tried the app out, it registered me as being in light to deep sleep during periods where i was not only awake, but when i lifted the phone to see the time. i'm glad that it wouldn't necessarily leap to the conclusion that i was awake if the phone moved a little- perhaps i was dreaming- but lifting the phone off the bed and returning it to its original position is clearly something that should be a red flag that i'm awake and alert.

very promising. and very wrong.
when i was careful to place the phone as close to my ear as possible, i found that the data seemed a little more reasonable, but there were still times when i felt it wasn't quite hitting the mark. at least once, it registered me as waking several times during the night when i don't actually remember waking at all, but i guess that we could assume that i was only half-awake and didn't recall things properly. another night, though, it failed to register that i was awake when i got up and went to the toilet. that's a bad sign.

ultimately, this app succeeds or fails based on the accuracy of its readings. i could say that i wish there were more explanations of how the data was calculated- breathing rates, movement, etc.- but the big question is whether or not it can record sleep cycles correctly. and in my experience, it can't. if i can't trust it to know the difference between asleep and awake, i can't trust it to know the difference between light and deep sleep, right?

i'm a little bit bummed by this result, because the app does seem to have a lot going for it. if the readings were accurate, it could be a boon to people who suffer from frequent sleep problems. i used it once to monitor a nap i took after waking up and feeling decidedly unrefreshed and, interestingly, the nap registered as being more than two thirds rem/ deep sleep. considering that i frequently awake from such power naps feeling quite energised, it would follow that i'm using that period to catch up on deep sleep that i didn't get at night. but i can't feel confident in those results, because i know that others haven't been correct.

this app is extremely well-reviewed and i downloaded it based on a recommendation from psychology today, so i have to assume that it's working for some people. i just don't find that it stands up to the scrutiny that i put it through. my thoughts? if you think it might be fun to try, download the free version, because you have nothing to lose. if you're looking for help with a more serious sleeping problem, though, you'd be better off consulting professionals.

12 April 2014

making faces :: g-force sneak peek

the eagles have landed. beautiful, majestic eagles of the makeup world, under the name of rouge g lipsticks by guerlain.

if you've read this blog before, you probably know that rouge g is one of my favourite lipstick formulas [neck-and-neck with rouge d'armani]. if you haven't read this blog before, now you know.

along with every other guerlain fan, i was excited to hear that the brand was adding a half a dozen new shades to the line at once this summer. all are available at some locations now, with others to follow shortly.

while guerlain has been adding new shades to the rouge g assortment from time to time, they haven't done a refresh like this since the formula was initially launched. i've noticed that the size of the display doesn't actually seem to be changing and that there are a few shades that have been out of stock for some time, so it's possible that a number of shades that are being discontinued, but i don't have confirmation on that.

the official descriptions of the newly launched shades are:

galiane [15] :: nude beige
gaetane [16] :: deep brown
geraldine [77] :: luminous pink
gladys [78] :: vibrant fuchsia
geneva [48] :: blood orange
rose grenat [864] :: velvety red-pink
rose glace [866] :: nude, barely there pink

the last two shades, like all 800-series rouge g shades, are limited edition.

now here they are swatched on my hand [kind of surreptitiously in store]:


on the extreme left, next to my cuff, you may see a slightly shiny patch of skin. that's rose glace. and it's built up to get that. on the first swipe, i thought i had accidentally applied a plastic "dummy" from the display, because i could see anything. it's truly a lip balm and nothing more. there is a little shimmer, but i had to squint to see it even after three passes.

next is "geraldine". isn't she pretty? this is a great medium pink that's a little brighter than a lot of guerlain's offerings, but still works for everyday wear. it's cooler and brighter than "georgia" [62], which is the closest shade i could come up with from the existing guerlain line.

"geneva" is a happy reddened orange. it's a little less opaque than most rouge g lipsticks and seemed a little tricky to get even. that said, i've had this happen with armani lipsticks before and they apply perfectly, so it's possible that won't be a problem in use. i loved the colour, although there are a lot of these shades around at the moment. "genna" [28] is much redder and deeper. "nahema" from the rouge automatique line is extremely close, but a little bit less pink and more orange. you wouldn't need both, unless you adore corals.

"gaetane" is a chestnut colour, brown yes, but not especially deep. it also seemed to have a bit of translucency, like "geneva". there wasn't any colour i could find among the rouge g's that came close to it. there are some browns among the rouge automatiques, but they all seemed softer. i didn't have access to other brands to compare, but i think this bears a resemblance to chanel "baroque", just a little lighter and without the shimmer.

"gladys" is a knockout. it's a cool, bold fuchsia with amazing pigmentation that went on extremely smoothly. what you're looking at in the photo is a single pass. it is very similar to "gigi" [68], which is just a hair deeper and plummier.

"rose grenat" is my favourite shade from the launch and probably the first i'm going to pick up, since it's limited. the description of a velvety red-pink gives a perfect sense not only of the colour, but of the texture. it is pretty close to "madame batifole", which is cooler and has more shimmer and "provocative", which is a bit redder. my tube of "provocative" went missing, which is one reason why i'm lusting after this one so much. i can't see how you'd need both. [however, since both "madame batifole" and "provocative" were limited, this would be kind of like buying an insurance policy.]

finally, we have "galiane", a very wearable nude-beige. it's too warm to work as a nude for me, but i suspect it will please a lot of people. to my eye, it's indistinguishable from "gillian' [14] and there are a lot of nude shades that are similar.

the three pink-fuchsia shades are the clear winners for me. i don't hesitate to recommend any of them. skip rose glace, for certain. the others are question marks. i would like to see how "geneva" and "gaetane" perform on the lips before committing. "galiane" is an exact dupe of an existing shade, but if you want a nude lipstick, it's an excellent choice.

see any that you like? i know i do...

09 April 2014

making faces :: a six pack for mac to bring back!

the stupendous six
wow. i so hate myself for that title, but it's late as i'm writing this and it made me giggle when i first thought of it, probably because saying it out loud makes you sound a lot like a duck.

oh no.

you're doing it aren't you? you're reading it out loud. quack quack quack... this is where my mind goes when i just let it wander. but it also goes lots of other places.

for instance, it goes to pages where i can read about the dozens of upcoming collections from mac cosmetics, looking at the descriptions of new products and wondering how many of them are really different from what i already have [i've gotten better at playing this game in the last couple of years] and how many i might actually need to bring home. and when i look through the colour stories, i notice that many products get brought back to life, not once, but sometimes on multiple occasions. we get to see familiar faces- or familiar stuff for our faces; products that were offered in previous limited collections and that were popular enough to warrant a return. the last two years, mac has even offered a fan-chosen collection made up entirely of older limited edition/ discontinued shades and it seems to have been extremely successful.

but that doesn't mean that they've covered all their bases and, as a long-time fan of the brand, there are a number of products that i think they should revisit. they may not have been among the best-selling at the time, because mac was often ahead of the curve in terms of the colours and finishes that they offer. or because sometimes products get lost in a large collection, because they have some big competition. on the other hand, there are a few things that people seem to have been screaming for [the limited edition lipstick in "queen's sin", which i never actually purchased, is a perennial favourite, rumoured to be coming with almost every collection] but which never seem to materialize.

i certainly don't know as much about what has been popular, what has been requested, or what is even feasible to make as anyone who works at mac. but that doesn't stop me from dreaming that some day, i'll be able to see some of my old favourites return. to that end, i came up with a set of lipstick shades [eye shadows are trickier, since i've used a lot of them up] that i would really like to see mount a comeback and that i think have proven difficult to duplicate since their release.


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