“Good to the last drop.”- Maxwell House Coffee, 1956

I have a confession to make. I was once a product whore. Yes, it is an ugly term but it is a term that describes me perfectly while I was in my early 20’s. I was consistently inconsistent, rarely finishing a product let alone buying it again. I was always in the search of the next best thing. There are pros and cons to this behaviour. If you are flexible, running out of your favourite coffee on a Sunday morning doesn’t ruin your day.  It may however, mean that your skin is less consistent and you aren’t guaranteed to enjoy your glass of red wine at the end of a hard day. Don’t get me wrong, I still try new things all of the time but over the years I have collected an arsenal of products that I buy again and again. I guess you could call them my ride or die products that I sometimes even stock-pile in advance as to not risk running out. Here are a few of them. Some are expensive, some are not but all of them are equally well loved.

The Ordinary’s Buffet Serum (find it here)

This is a multi-technology peptide serum full of heavy hitting vitamins and peptides that my skin just eats up. This only serum I have used to the very last drop. It is affordable and my skin has never looked better. I may or may not have two bottles stogged away in my linen closet (which is excessive as it took me more than six months to go through one).

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The Ordinary’s Natural Moisturizing Factors (find it here)

I have used dozens of moisturizers in the past at varying price points and this is the first one I have ever re-purchased more than once. It is thick, a little goes a long way but it isn’t heavy and it doesn’t clog my pores. It is 100% unscented and now comes in 100 ml bottles. Did I mention it is ridiculously affordable?!

Make Up Forever Water Blend Foundation (find it here)

This foundation is slightly on the more expensive side but it has lasted me over six months. It comes in 19 colours and is so light and dewy it is hard to tell there is anything on my face. I spent years wearing tinted moisturizers because I love the natural look and this gives me the perfect amount of build-able coverage while keeping my skin dewy and fresh. If you are looking for full coverage foundation, this is not the product for you, you may want to try thisthis or for an affordable full cover, this.

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MAC Modesty Cremesheen Lipstick (find it here)

I have been wearing this shade for years. I just finished off my 6th tube and for good reason, it is the perfect muted, everyday pink. It is super neutral, goes on smoothly and has just a hint of mauve which makes your teeth look extra white!

Rimmel Kate Moss Lipstick in 08 (find it here)

This colour looks great on EVERYONE. It is less than $7, super creamy and smells like old fashioned lipstick. I buy this for everyone and suggest it to anyone who wants to take lipstick for a spin but is overwhelmed or afraid of a bold lip. It is a little punchier than the MAC one above but still pretty neutral!

Nuknuuk Slippers from Costco (find them here)

I am just working in my third pair. I am extremely hard on footwear and these beautiful slippers last me two years before they need replacing. They are made of sheepskin and are lined with thick, cushiony sherpa. They are so luxe and come in at less than $30.

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Bed Head Urban Antidotes shampoo/conditioner/mask (find them here)

I have used Bed Head shampoo for close to ten years. It keeps my hair super shiny, residue free and manageable. I have tried many shampoo/conditioner combos from both the salon and drugs stores over the years and nothing compares to these products. Best of all, they smell AMAZING. You only need a small amount, a litre lasts me a year and you can always find it at Winners or on sale at salons. I only started using the mask in the last year as I am getting my hair cut a lot less frequently now that I have grown it out. This mask prevents and repairs the split ends that I get from using hot tools.

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Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay (find it here)

Don’t let the price or the packaging fool you, this mask is the bomb. I found it after watching Mindy Kaling using it on her instagram page. You mix it with apple cider vinegar, apply it to your face, let it dry and then it wash off. This mask leaves my skin so soft and the jar will likely last me ten years.

Saje Yoga Mat Spray (find it here)

This stuff is antibacterial, smells amazing and is useful for so much more than just your yoga mat. Sure, I spray this stuff on my yoga mat like you are supposed to, but I also spray it in my shoes and in my suitcase after travelling. It is seriously good.

FullSizeRender-3.jpgBath and Body Works Eucalyptus Mint Hand Soap (find it here)

This stuff smells crisp, fresh and clean. I stock up on it when it is on sale and people always comment on how much the love the smell of the soap in my bathroom. What can I say, I am a people pleaser.

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And because wine is the best here are three bottles of big, beautiful reds that I keep coming back to again and again!

Urceus, Primitivo

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Las Heramanas, Monastrell

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Dominio De Heredia,  Rioja

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“Amass a collection of things you love..”-M.Briand

A couple of weeks ago, my little home was “featured” on a new Instagram account called Halifax Living Space. The account spotlights the interiors of apartments, houses and homes in general of Haligonians and each feature shows very different interior design concepts and interior design tastes.

Participating in the account got me thinking about how far my little “close-to-retirement-aged-house” has come over the past five years. Buying an older home is not for the faint of heart. Old homes can come with equally old plumbing, plaster walls, small/awkward room sizes and little-to-no storage. They can come with layers of chipping paint, scary basements and windows that are painted shut. On the flip side, older homes can come with the kind of character that is difficult to replicate. Solid wood trim, retro built ins and walls that have witnessed years of love and life.

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When I bought my house, I knew there was a lot of work ahead of me. I knew it needed an oil tank and gallons of paint. I knew the windows needed replacing, the floors needed refinishing and I knew that I would have to pick away at things over the years. I also knew that it would be a process and that there would always be another project waiting in the wings. I realized that new furniture would have to wait, that kitchen reno’s likely wouldn’t happen for a decade and that I was going to have to get creative. What I didn’t realize was how expensive renovations can be and the importance of learning a few handy skills to make your space livable while remaining affordable.

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Over the years I have replaced the roof, the oil tank, exterior doors and thirteen (!!) windows. I have re-painted every surface at least once and many are going on their second or third paint “face-lifts” because paint it cheap and can transform anything quite dramatically. I have had the floors refinished, I have slowly replaced some furniture, upgraded light fixtures and I have thrifted endless amounts of DIY decor. Yet, there is still so much to do!

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My renovation list for the near future includes kitchen flooring , shiplap in the bathroom and a new vanity (but for now my retro one is getting it’s third “paint-lift”). I still have light fixtures to install and more paint for the bathroom walls waiting in my basement for a day where I have a little spare time. Eventually, I would love to tear down the wall between the kitchen and dining room and reimagine the whole thing into a more practical, storage savvy place that makes better use of the small footprint. I just need another five years and some extra shifts at work.

My advice to people who are struggling to find a style, to renovate on a budget or to pair down an existing collection into key pieces would be to amass a collection of things you love. Peices that are authentic to you regardless of style, price or vintage. What will result is a home that reflects you. A home that tells your story!

-m

 

“Espresso is the miracle of chemistry in a cup”- Andrea Illy

If you know anything about me, you know that I love coffee. It is the best part of my day (is that a little sad?), a great coffee shop is the first thing I look for when I travel and I do not discriminate when it comes to the type. Drip, press, espresso, pour-over, they are all a wonderful, aromatic experience to me.

In August I was gifted a Nespresso for my birthday and even though I wanted to test one out for ages, I had my reservations at first. I didn’t love that it uses pods that create unnecessary waste and I doubted that it would make that great of espresso. I kind of assumed it was along the lines of a Keurig (which really doesn’t make great coffee).

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Boy was I wrong. This little machine is the bee’s knees. The espresso is piping hot with a beautiful, rich crema on top. It is exceptionally flavourful and short of having a Nuova Simoelli machine and cute barista living in my kitchen next to it, the Nespresso can’t be beat. Americanos, lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos, this little machine has my back and it only takes 25 seconds to heat up! Don’t even get me started on the frother. It makes perfectly frothed, hot milk in 60 seconds (all with just the push of a button)! Both the nespresso and frother have incredibly small footprints which is perfect for my tiny kitchen. The pods are fully recycled by Nespresso and you can get reusable pods for your own ground beans. This little miracle has quickly moved to the very top of my favourite things list and in my opinion, is totally worth every penny. You can find the one I am LOVING here.

Since we are talking coffee, my favourite beans of all time are roasted here in Halifax at Java Blend. I am obsessed with the Thirty Eight Espresso, it is amazing drip and even better by french press. Check them out next time you are in the city or order some here.

…and since we are still talking coffee we may as well discuss my favourite mugs. I am VERY picky. I always test drive mugs before I purchase them because there are few things worse than an uncomfortable mug (right up there with uncomfortable underwear). My very favourite mugs of all time are made on Prince Edward Island. They come from Village Pottery and are works of art. These mugs are so lovely that I tend to give them as wedding gifts. They are hand-made and come in so many shapes and glazes that there is something for everyone. Check out how beautiful they are below. You can find the Village Pottery on Instagram and on their website here.

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“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”- W.C. Bryant

I am spending my day off studying, drinking coffee and cleaning up my gardens if the coffee gives me enough energy to do so. My flowers and herbs have all begun to go to seed and I have noticed pumpkins and fall mums inching their way onto the doorsteps and porches of neighbouring homes. The first day of fall is tomorrow and it is my very favourite season.


Last week my mother hosted a couple of her girlfriends for a “wreath making and wine drinking afternoon”. My mom is exceptionally crafty and after looking at what she created (while enjoying wine) I was inspired to make my own fall wreath. Fall wreaths can be a lot. I always scout them out at Home Sense and Michaels but can never find one that I like. Personally, I am into simple wreaths. Wreathes without giant bows, that are small and understated. My door is bright enough and easily crosses the “too much” line so I picked a small grapevine wreath, some eucalyptus and a sprig of white berries at Michaels (all half off). I also grabbed a bag of little acorns and pinecones from the dollar store (I should have bought a couple bags because they are really cute!). Using some wire cutters and my hot glue gun I simply arranged my decorations where I wanted them and glued them down. That was it. So simple and cost less than $15 dollars including the glue!
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If you have never whipped up your own wreath, they are exceptionally easy. Pick a wreath, grapevines are really easy to work with and super inexpensive. Pick up some flowers, berries, bells, sparkly springs or whatever you love that suits your season. Snip them, arrange them and glue them (hot glue gun works very well). That is it! You can add bows and ribbons, you can use sea shells from the beach, star fish, dried flowers and even pom-poms. Many of the decorations can be bought at the dollar store. It makes for an inexpensive project that anyone can do. One that is best enjoyed with a group of friends and a splash of wine.

-m

 

“If eating cake is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”- Lorelai Gilmore

It is hard to beat a really good cake. Whether you are celebrating a milestone such as a birthday or you are just having a no-good-very-bad-day,  a slice of really delicious cake has the ability to make your bad day a little less awful and can take a celebration and elevate it to a party. Cakes have been used in this manner for centuries and as the science behind baking improved as well as the availability of baking ingredients, they went from what was basically sweetened bread to the cakes we know today.  Initially used in religious ceremonies dating back to ancient Egypt, cakes really began to be prominent fixture at many celebrations over the past 300 years. Now a days, it seems we look for almost any excuse for a cake. Getting your braces off? Better pick up a cake! Your best friend’s divorce is finalized? Perfect opportunity to bake a cake! The dog finally peed outside consistently? A cake only makes sense!

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Anyway I am not here to discuss the history of cakes (although it is seemingly extensive), I am here to talk about how easy baking a cake can be. People are intimidated by cakes but honestly, it is easier than putting together Ikea furniture. You just have to have a decent recipe, you have to follow it correctly and it helps to use fresh, quality ingredients. If your baking powder is ancient, your cake may not rise. If your cocoa powder is old and of poor quality, your cake may not be quite as rich as you hoped. In all honesty, the hardest part of baking a cake is frosting it. Making the frosting is easy, but getting it on there and to look like you didn’t apply it with your hands while wearing old woollen mittens is the most difficult part. Luckily, rustic is in these days when it comes to baked goods and everyone loves a sheet cake with a thick layer of frosting slapped on haphazardly. It is hard to screw up something made with sugar, butter and eggs. Even if it looks like it was baked by a three year old while they were blindfolded, it will taste good and when it comes to cake, taste is ultimately what matters.

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I am going to share a basically fool proof chocolate cake recipe that uses the addition of sour cream and espresso powder to help create a moist and tender cake with an elevated degree of chocolatey goodness. I am also going to share a recipe for swiss meringue butter cream. Yes, it sounds a little scary and most definitely a little intimidating but if you have a hand mixer or stand mixer, you can’t screw it up. It’s light, not too sweet and this frosting holds its shape/height beautifully. Even when un-fridgerated for long periods of time, even in the summer. It is one of the best frostings I have ever made and I keep coming back to it again and again. It is the only frosting I truly trust for big events such as weddings! When you add espresso powder and good quality vanilla, you may have the best frosting in the world.

Happy baking all. Have faith in yourself, the science of baking and your oven. You will likely wish you baked a cake sooner and you may even start looking for excuses to bake one again and again.

-m

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Very Chocolatey, Chocolate Cake (adapted from Baking A Moment )

You will need:

  • 1.5 c white sugar
  • 1 c all purpose flour
  • 1/2 c of cake flour (or all purpose if you don’t have cake)
  • 1c unsweetened cocoa powder (Costco has some great high quality cocoa)
  • 2 Tbs of espresso powder
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1c softened butter, cut into cubes
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1c sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Preheat your oven to 325. Butter and flour three 8 inch cake pans (you can use a sheet pan likely, just adjust baking time accordingly) and line bottom with parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix with a whisk to incorporate them and to get rid of the lumps! Add butter and mix on low until butter and dry ingredients are the texture of damp sand. Add eggs one at a time and once they are fully incorporated add the sour cream and vanilla. Beat on med speed for 2 minutes and then divide batter between pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely, then frost or glaze as desired!

Swiss Meringue Butter Cream

The recipe I love best (and I have tried several) is adapted from Martha Stewart. Find it here. Tips….

  • Don’t get any yolks in the egg whites, they will never form stiff peaks if you do…
  • Use beaters- hand held or stand mixer. I think this would almost be impossible by hand unless you are a professional arm wrestler.
  • Make sure your butter is room temperature.
  • If it looks like it is curdling when you add the butter just keep going. It will come together I promise.
  • If you want to make it espresso flavoured, add 2 TBS of espresso powder (not instant coffee) when you add the vanilla. I always use this one when I bake.

“A pickle is just a cucumber with a little experience.”- Irena Chalmers

This week I was gifted a beautiful bag of fresh vegetables from B & D Nabuurs. It was teeming with green peppers, tomatoes, carrots, jalapeños and two of the biggest field cucumbers I have ever seen. The tomatoes are honestly some of the best I have ever had, I have had carrots everyday for breakfast and I plan on making a small batch of hot pepper jelly with the peppers. Veggies always taste so much better when they are fresh from the garden.

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Recently I was at a restaurant that served homemade refrigerator pickles with my meal. They were tangy and crisp and I thought of them instantly when I saw the giant cucumbers in the bag of veggies. After a little trial and error I think I have made the tastiest and easiest pickles I have ever had. I adapted the recipe from My Recipes but have made a few changes including adding a jalapeño for some heat, doubling the brine and changing the turmeric to cumin. You guys, they are seriously good! So good in fact that I have decided to keep the bottle I had planned on giving my sister for myself. There  was even a little brine left over which I poured over some thinly sliced carrots and added a little rosemary to. They are also incredible. I may never buy pickles again. So easy and so tasty! Find the recipe below!

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Thanks Benny and Dianne for the veggies!

-m


You will need:

  • 6 cups of thinly sliced pickling cucumbers (I used my mandolin to keep them super thin and uniform)
  • 2 cups of thinly sliced sweet white onion
  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 2 tsp of sea salt
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp celery seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2-  1 tsp crushed chili peppers (depends on how much spice you like)
  • 1/2 tsp of peppercorns and/or 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • A generous pinch of ground cloves
  • A generous pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 1 jalapeno thinly sliced, seeds in (may omit if you don’t like a little heat)
  • Optional- a few slivers of carrots or peppers to add a little colour

In a heatproof glass dish, layer cucumber and onions (2 cups of cucumbers, 1 cup of onions and repeat). Combine the rest of the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute and then pour over onions and cucumbers ensuring they are fully submerged. If you have any brine left, save to use in the future or pour over a jar of thinly sliced carrots or red onion (because pickled anything always makes lunch better!). Cover and let cool then refrigerate for up to four days. Divide into jars and keep in the fridge for up to a month (but I promise they won’t last that long!). So quick, so easy and so tasty!

“What is this wizardry?!”- Me (trying LipSense for the first time)

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I still remember my very first lipstick. My aunt and mother picked out a frosted pink CoverGirl concoction for me while back-to-school shopping in Halifax in the 90’s. That frosty lipstick made me feel like Shania Twain (who else would my lipstick goals have been?) and I was so excited that I re-applied it three times within ten minutes. I distinctly remember my aunt telling me to “slow down or you won’t have any left for tomorrow”.   That was the beginning of a long (and sometimes financially unhealthy) relationship with lipstick. Name a trend and I have likely tried it.

In recent months I had read about a relatively new formulation made in the USA called LipSense. This line has been gaining popularity in the past couple of years, to the point of not being able to keep inventory in stock and having to limit their colour range to enable them to keep with the demand. Why is it so popular? Well the company proposes it doesn’t wear off. It is marketed as a 4-18 hour wear lipstick that claims to go on and require no maintenance with the exception of reapplying a protective and hydrating gloss throughout the day to maintain it. Sounds easy enough and impossible all at the same time. Honestly though, how could a lipstick last through drinking coffee, eating, talking, working out and doing all of the things that people generally do throughout a day and not budge?Lipsense-1

How does it work? Well the brand says that you apply three thin layers, allowing each to dry for a few seconds. It uses medical grade alcohol that evaporates and adheres the colour  to your lips which is then sealed in with a gloss. The gloss comes in a range of formulas including glossy, matte, pearl and a handful of glittery and shimmery ones.

I won’t lie, I was extremely skeptical when I got my hands on a tube. First of all, I generally hate “pyramid schemes” or anything that remotely resembles them. Plus I like to be able to walk into Sephora or Mac and get the instant gratification of buying a lipstick while having the opportunity to try it on first.

The application also seemed like a lot of work with a handful of rules. You have to apply it in one direction, one layer at a time, not pressing your lips together throughout the process (which I was absolutely terrible at but spoiler alert: it was totally worth the effort). It felt both dry and sticky at the same time and I found it burned slightly the first time I used it (research told me this was likely due to my dry lips). Then you seal it in with a gloss, which is something that hasn’t graced my lips since 2001. After the process, which may have taken a minute total, I rubbed my lips together and was surprised at how soft and hydrated they felt once the gloss was on. The dry/sticky feeling was gone, as was any tingling I initially felt. They were smooth, not sticky at all, the colour had a great sharp edge with no bleeding and I was surprised that I didn’t hate the glossy look.  When I did the “rub your lips test”, which I have seen dozens of times online when debating buying the product, there was nothing on my fingers and the colour hadn’t moved even the tiniest bit. I then tried rubbing it off gently with a towel and all that happened was that the gloss had come off. The colour was intact and perfect.  I was shocked. Throughout the day I had a coffee date with a friend, I ate supper and I did some gardening. Six hours later it still looks great and all it required was a couple reapplications of the gloss to protect it and stay hydrated. Honestly, it was shocking. Taking it off was a little difficult (makeup remover and face wash don’t even begin to touch it) but I have since learned that plain old neutrogena soap takes it off with very little effort.

 

 

So is all the the hype worth it?

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Con’s to LipSense

  • The upfront cost is relatively expensive. It is $3o a colour, $25 for a gloss and $12 for the remover. A starter kit it $67 plus tax which seemed like a lot at first.
  • The application takes a little getting used to but it isn’t hard.
  • It “tingled” a little initially but I have since started using the gloss at night to keep my lips hydrated.
  • It was initially difficult to remove even with the remover (however, the remover is great for mistakes during the application) but once I tried Neutrogena soap it came off very easily.
  • Can’t try on colours prior to purchasing, but you can google the colour you like and see what it looks like on a variety of skin tones and lip shapes.
  • You have to wait to get it and waiting is hard sometimes. Not a real con, just me being impatient.
  • The packaging sucks. This also isn’t a real con, but it just looks a little “dated”.

Pro’s to LipSense

  • It really does last and not transfer. At all. It is magic.
  • The colour range is awesome. Thirty plus colours and new limited edition ones are launched every couple of months. There is something for everyone and it is broken down by undertones making it easy to find what you want. I haven’t tried one I didn’t love!
  • 1 tube of Lipsense colour has 2-4 times the amount of product than most popular liquid lipsticks and you will apply it a lot less. It will last forever and you only need one gloss regardless of how many colours you acquire.
  • You can layer more than one colour with another to create new looks. Two colours can give you eight options depending on the order you layer them in.
  • It is FDA approved, vegan, kosher, non-GMO, gluten free, lead free, it protects you lips from the sun (SPF 15 equivalent) and is NOT tested on animals.
  • My lips are more hydrated and plump than ever.
  • The fabulous return policy. SeneGence has a 100% guarantee which includes money back or a new product within 12 months of purchase if a customer isn’t happy with the product (this does not cover leaving it in a hot car and destroying it though!).
  • It is the ultimate lip product for brides, people who wear masks at work, mom’s on the go and anyone who doesn’t have the time to reapply it and check it throughout the day.
  • It is also red wine safe (I personally tested this theory) , it doesn’t come off on a coffee cup and it doesn’t travel around your face/get on your teeth. Win win.

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In my opinion, the pro list far outweighs the con list (lets be honest, some of the cons were far fetched to begin with). After a few months of using it, I am still hooked and have amassed a handful of colours. I initially signed up as a distributor for the discount (20-50% off) and have actually ended up selling it on the side after dozens of friends asked me about it and how to get their hands on some. It is very rare that I stand behind a product enough to sell it. I am a cynic 82% of the time and LipSense has blown any of my initial skepticism out of the water.

Interested in trying it yourself? You have nothing to lose with the money back guarantee! Check out Shabby Yet Chic Lips on Facebook or search Shabby Yet Chic Lips (username or hashtag) to find my page on Instagram! Interested in becoming a distributor? Just message me on any social media for more information!

Great long-lasting-lips for everyone!

-m