Afsana’s Favorite Things

It has been many moons since I have celebrated a name day. Can you tell I am working my way through the Game of Thrones books? Anyway, I think the last birthday I celebrated was over 20 years ago. I don’t have any plans of starting back up, but I will happily accept gifts from any reader who may be feeling philanthropic this month. Since I haven’t done an “Afsana’s Favorite Things Post”, I figured now would be a good time. 

I have a confession to make: I’ve been bitten by the DIY bug. The problem is that I have no tools. The contents of my tool box consist of a hammer, an electric screwdriver, several manual screwdrivers, a tape measure, and random screws that have fallen out of pieces of furniture that my children have destroyed over the years. Seriously, there’s not even a hand saw in my collection. You can imagine how far I’ll get trying to build a set of bunk beds. So here’s my wish list: 

HomeCraft 14-Amp 10 Inch Miter Saw with Laser

  
 

This saw received pretty high reviews, and is cheaper than many of the other models I looked at. The laser will assist with cutting straight lines and let me tell you, I need all the help I can get. This product sells at Home Depot for $109.

Ryobi Miter Saw Stand

  
I know it’s not the same brand as the actual miter saw, but work with me here. They appear to be compatible and at $99, this was the cheapest I could go without getting something that looked like it had been constructed from Legos.

DeWalt 18 Volt Ni-Cad ½ Inch Compact Drill/Driver Kit

  
I’m all over the place with the brands here. This drill appeared to be a decent price at $99, but what do I know about drill prices? See the description of my toolbox above. The biggest selling point for me is the fact that it’s cordless. With my level of coordination, I would probably trip over a cord and drill a hole into the side of the washing machine by accident. 

Kreg Jig Master System

  
Sure, I could probably just use a drill with a countersink bit for the projects I have in mind, but isn’t this impressive? Just think, the person who owns this system would be the envy of all their DIY friends and Pinterest followers. At $139, it’s not a top priority for me. It would be nice to have, though.

DeWalt 5 Inch Random Orbit Sander

  
Because I can’t have the kids getting splinters on their new bunk beds, can I? It sells for $59 at Home Depot, and got pretty good reviews. AND it comes with a dust collection bag, so Linebacker won’t need his rescue inhaler while I’m using it. 

Brother CS6000i Feature Rich Sewing Machine

  
This isn’t tool related, but I am itching to replace the awful Shark sewing machine I have currently. Why is Shark making sewing machines, anyway? Please leave that to the professionals, Shark. Stick with steam mops. Anyway, I learned about this sewing machine from Mimi G’s blog and when I did some research, it seemed to be exactly what I needed. It’s basic enough for me to be able to work without getting to frustrated, but is capable of sewing more than the straight and zig zag lines I am currently limited to. The best part? Automatic buttonholes, y’all. And this baby is less than $150 on Amazon.

Gingher 8-Inch Knife Edge Dressmaker’s Shears

  
I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I’m still using the shears that came in the sewing kit my mom bought me a really, really long time ago. And since my kids have gotten their grubby hands on them, they’ve been used to cut way more than just fabric. I’m talking robots made from cardboard boxes. They don’t cut fabric very well anymore. And when I say they don’t cut fabric very well, I mean that I’d get better results from a steak knife. Lately, I’ve taken to using a pair of all-purpose scissors that I usually reserve for coupons. That’s how desperate my situation is. These come with a hefty price tag of $23 but Mimi G said I should get them, so I shall. 

Dritz St. Jane Sewing Basket

  
This is incredibly adorable, and would store all my sewing notions perfectly. Right now, I am using an old container that used to house organic baby spinach. It’s flimsy, and doesn’t hold everything I need it to hold. That’s how my kids got ahold of my sewing shears in the first place.

That concludes this year’s edition of Afsana’s Favorite Things, unless I can think of more things to add to the list. In that event, there will be a sequel.

Foodie Files: Hummus

   I have been a lover of hummus for as long as I have been attending Iftaar dinners at the masjid (at least 15 years). Sadly, the masjid was the only place I could find decent hummus. Back in the day, store-bought hummus left a lot to be desired. The flavor was bland, and the texture was lumpy. At least that was the case until Sabra came along with its robust flavor and smooth texture. And hefty price. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m super frugal when it comes to grocery spending. The meals we eat in my household are directly related to the current sales at Publix, and it will take an act of congress for that to change. 

I need my hummus fix, but can’t see spending $4 on that little bitty container of Sabra. Thankfully, my friend Maisoon makes a mean hummus, and wasn’t shy about sharing the recipe: 

2 29oz. cans of garbanzo beans (I used Goya)

¼ cup of tahini (sesame paste)

juice of 2 lemons

4 cloves of garlic

¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil

salt to taste 

1. Empty the cans of beans into a pot, liquid included. Add two cans full of water and simmer until the water is almost completely gone. Cool completely.

2. Sautee/brown the cloves of garlic in the olive oil.

3. Add all ingredients to a food processor, mix to desired consistency.

4. Enjoy! 

When cooking the beans, you will notice that the skin separates from the beans and floats to the top. It isn’t harmful, but feel free to scoop them out with a slotted spoon. I’ve heard people say that removing the skin improves the texture. Maisoon uses a Ninja blender to puree her hummus, which purees everything thoroughly and results in a nice, creamy hummus. My cheap food processor requires a bit more effort, but less so when I scoop the skin out.

The amount of garlic you add really depends on your preference. 4 cloves is listed as a guideline, but I tend to go heavy on the garlic. Browning it in the olive oil makes it much less pungent. You could probably roast it in the oven as well, but be sure you still add that olive oil to the mixture. Olive oil is a must for a good batch of hummus.

Please note that bottled lemon juice is by no means an acceptable substitute for juice from fresh lemons. About a year ago, there was a lemon shortage and I couldn’t find them anywhere in stores. I used bottled lemon juice instead, and ended up tossing the entire batch of hummus because no one would touch it.

As for the salt, I normally add about a teaspoon. You really don’t need much, since the beans are already salted.

Also, you can be really flexible with hummus. Add some roasted red peppers, basil pesto, or any other extras that appeal to your taste buds. I prefer mine plain, but I won’t turn my nose up at hummus with chopped olives sprinkled on top.

My kids love hummus, and it’s one of the few ways I can get Little Linebacker excited about veggies. On nights that my mother in law volunteers to keep the kids, I am perfectly happy with hummus and veggies for dinner. We used to be content eating it with celery, carrots and pretzels, but I’ve recently started expanding my choices to include veggies I normally pass over in the produce section. Check the produce section at your grocery store, and don’t shy away from those sugar snap peas. I hope you love this recipe as much as I do!

Foodie Files: Quinoa Salad

I love going to potlucks, and I dread them at the same time. I am not even remotely creative when it comes to food that I’ll be sharing with people. I don’t have much confidence in my culinary skills, so I stick with tried and true dishes. That usually means store-bought key lime pie. This time, I decided to get put more effort forth than just browsing the dessert section at Publix. 

I’ve never cooked quinoa before, so I was really intimidated by dishes containing it. But what’s the point in this quest of mine if I’m not going to step outside of my comfort zone? When I read the back of a package of quinoa, I could have kicked myself for not making it sooner. It really isn’t much different from cooking rice. I would love to have varied up my grains a long time ago. Rice gets tired really quickly. 

The recipe Sweet Potato, Apple, and Kale Quinoa salad, and can be found here

I won’t post the full recipe since it can already be found on another blogger’s site, but I can share some info with you. Victoria (aforementioned blogger) used quinoa, vegetable broth, olive oil, diced sweet potatoes, a large apple, dried cherries, salt, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette to pull this masterpiece together. She includes a recipe for the homemade vinaigrette, which includes balsamic vinegar (obviously), a shallot, honey Dijon mustard, honey, olive oil, and salt.

  
I truly couldn’t have taken a less appetizers my picture than this. But you guys were warned well in advance of my photography talent. Anywho, garnishing the salad with goat cheese and pecans at the end is optional. I actually bought goat cheese, but forgot to add it to the salad. At least it was on hand when I made the frittata. Other than forgetting the garnish, the only thing I did differently was use dried cranberries instead of dried cherries because dude, have you seen the price of dried cherries? Holy smokes.

The original recipe calls for cooking the sweet potatoes in a skillet with olive oil and salt. I think I will roast them instead next time around to enhance the sweetness of the potatoes. I can’t wait to make this salad again. It was a hit with the kids as well as the potluck attendees. 

  

Foodie Files: Spinach Frittata

When you grow up in an African American household, grits are a natural part of life. Having lived the majority of my life in Buffalo, I always thought grits were eaten exclusively by black people. One Monday morning in third grade, we were discussing what we ate over the weekend. Upon mentioning grits, I could see other black classmates nodding their heads in agreement while white classmates looked puzzled. “What is a grit?” one asked, confused. Embarrassed, I never again openly admitted to eating grits. 

Imagine the shock I experienced upon moving to Florida and seeing white folks openly ordering grits for breakfast in restaurants. I know it sounds bad, but I couldn’t stop staring. It was such an anomaly to me, seeing other people eat food that I had mistakenly believed resided only in the diets of African Americans. My husband is a huge fan of grits, so I fix them often. Sometimes, I get a little tired of the same thing. Grits, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon. Grits, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon. Or pancakes, scrambled eggs, and turkey bacon. Do you see now why I was so desperate to dig into my stash of Food Network magazines?

I’ll bet you thought this food post was going to include a recipe for grits, didn’t you? Not this time. I’ll share that recipe when my vacation from grits is over. This post is about eggs in the form of a frittata.

The recipe I tried out came from the April 2015 issue of Food Network Magazine, also known as The BIG Breakfast Issue. Trisha Yearwood’s recipe for a spinach frittata calls for the following ingredients: 

4 large eggs

½ cup of heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise

2 tablespoons salted butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

4 cups baby spinach

Preheat your oven to a broil. In a medium bowl, whist together the eggs, heavy cream, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ½ teaspoon of pepper until smooth. Fold in cheese and tomatoes and set aside.

In a medium oven-safe frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and sauté until softened. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Pour egg mixture over spinach and cook until almost set, about 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the oven and broil until golden brown on top, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn out onto a serving plate.

Now I know some of y’all are shaking your heads at the idea that a fat girl who claims to love food could make it through almost 40 years of life without having ever attempted a frittata. Please refer back to my last post and note my lack of cooking skill, as evidenced by the results I achieved from this recipe. 

Trisha recommends using a cast iron skillet for the recipe, which I actually own. What I didn’t consider was the fact that my monster-sized skillet (which is much needed for my monster-sized family) is probably much bigger than the skillet that Trisha used. This resulted in a really flat frittata. I also forgot about lowering the shelf in the oven, so it was broiled very close to the heating coils. That explains the reason why my frittata is more on the black side than golden brown as Trisha suggested.

    
It wasn’t exactly burned, which is a plus. The flavor was decent. I decided against the grape tomatoes. Actually, I forgot them and opted not to make another trip to the store. My onions were sliced instead of finely chopped, but it worked out fine. I didn’t bother to measure the spinach, I just used a whole bag because I love spinach. 

The next morning, I decided to try the recipe out again with a few tweaks. I doubled the recipe and used kale in place of spinach, since I had a boatload of it leftover from another recipe I tried (which will be posted soon). Publix had Baby Bella mushrooms on sale, so I threw those in as well.   

  I subbed goat and cheddar cheeses for the Swiss and this time, I remembered to lower the shelf before broiling. These results were a thousand times better, although I prefer spinach to kale in this dish.

  
If you are a novice like I am and have never attempted a frittata, please give it a go. Anyone can make it if I can, I promise.

 

 

Walmart Beauty Box

I’m not normally a big fan of Walmart, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to purchase their beauty box for the low price of $5.00. It’s a quarterly box, and there isn’t a subscription available for it. You pretty much just mark your calendars and go online to buy when it becomes available. The value of the box was worth far more than the price I paid for it.

  

 

The first item packed inside was Jergnes BB Body Perfecting Skin Cream. The shade I received was for light skin tones, which I do not have. I gave it away, so I can’t give a review on that.

  

 

Next up was the Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula lotion. I have used this in the past and loved it, so I was glad to receive it in my box. I don’t know why I expected all new products to be showcased, but I’m okay with getting tried and true products. The bottle was a generous size, but still fit nicely into my purse. The sample reminded me of how much I liked this lotion back in the day, so I’ve put it on my shopping list.

  

 

I’ve seen coupons for Loreal’s Total Repair shampoo and conditioner, but never bothered to clip them. I’m not sure why, but I never even considered trying this line. I was really impressed once I gave these samples a go. I shampooed and conditioned after getting out of the pool and was really impressed by the results. My hair felt clean without feeling stripped. This is another one that will go on the shopping list.

   

 

 

I can’t tell you what Fame by Lady Gaga smells like, because I still haven’t opened it. I have a feeling the sample will end up in my daughter’s purse at some point. I probably won’t get around to wearing it.

  

 

I was hoping Garnier’s Ultra-Lift Miracle Sleeping Cream would be wonderful, since I love their other facial products. This left my skin feeling really dry and itchy. The sample came with a coupon for $2.00 off, which I’ll be giving away to someone who actually likes the product.

  

 

I did enjoy the Burt’s Bees Renewal Intensive Firming Serum. I am a lover of all things serum-related, and wish I would get them more often in my boxes. I used this underneath my regular moisturizer and it made my skin feel smooth without feeling greasy. It didn’t irritate even a little, which was a big deal. And the fact that the sample came with a coupon for $3.00 off didn’t hurt, either.

  

 

My favorite product in the whole box was probably the Palmer’s Skin Therapy Oil. I used this on my face after cleansing before bed. It wasn’t as oily as I expected it to be. It absorbed really well into my skin and left it feeling super soft when I woke up in the morning. The downside is that I can’t seem to find it in any store. I would love to buy a bottle. I guess I’ll have to check Amazon for this one.

  

 

I’m sorry about not taking a picture of the Ken Paves Smoothing Line Regimen before I used it. It doesn’t seem fair to give this line a negative review, because it probably works wonderfully for someone with straight hair. It’s not meant for curly hair, which tends to get really dry. I lean towards hydrating hair products. I’ve never had good results from smoothing versions.

  

 

In addition to those products, I also received a coupon for a few can of Dry Spray antiperspirant (which usually sells for around $5) and a coupon for $1.00 off any Palmer’s Sun protection product. In Florida, we use sunscreen nearly all year. This coupon definitely won’t go to waste.

   

 

 

All in all, I’m happy with the box. While there were products in it that I generally wouldn’t use, the value of the things I did like were more than the cost of the box itself.

 

April 2015 Birchbox

I haven’t yet made a recipe from my many magazines as promised, but I do have a review for my April Birchbox. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

  

 

The box I received for April was the prettiest box I received so far. It was designed by Rifle Paper Company and like all other pretty boxes, I couldn’t bring myself to part with it. I’ve added it to my bathroom drawer divider collection so that I can justify not throwing it away. On to the contents of the box:

 

1.       Orange Sanguine Cologne Absolue by Atelier – $70 for full size                    

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I can count on one hand how many perfume samples I’ve received that I actually liked. I don’t wear perfume because it doesn’t jive with my body chemistry. It never really sinks in and mellows out, just sits on the surface just as potent as it smells in the bottle. Every once in a while, I’ll stumble across a perfume that I absolutely love. This was not one of them.

  

 

2.       Super Comb Prep & Protect by Number 4  – $32 for full size

This sulfate-free leave-in conditioner did a great job at detangling my nest of hair. I go swimming almost every day, so you can imagine what the chlorine does to me. Having something that detangles well is a big plus. Unfortunately, this stuff also tends to make my hair feel dry and filmy. This is the problem I have with every product I’ve ever tried by this company, though.

  

 

3.       Just Kissed Lip and Cheek Stain by Jane Iredale – $25 for full size

I was really disappointed when I first opened this tube. As you can see, it doesn’t look like a color that would stain anyone’s lips or cheeks, but especially not mine. I was pleasantly surprised after trying it on to find that it truly does adjust to a nice, barely-there color that I prefer in makeup. Just for kicks, I also tried it on my daughter. Her complexion is a few shades darker than mine, and the stain adjusted to her skin color as well.

  

 

4.        Baked Liquid Radiance Foundation by Laura Geller Beauty – $38

Unlike the Just Kissed Lip and Cheek stain, this did not adjust to my skin tone. I don’t ever wear foundation, so I’m always sad to see it included in my Birchboxes. if it were a tinted moisturizer, it probably would have been fine. I might have been able to get away with it. But as a liquid foundation, I don’t think this color suits anyone. That is, unless you don’t mind looking like you’ve overdosed on beta carotene.

  


5.       Body Wash (Bathing With the Sharks) by Not Soap, Radio – $16

I love getting body wash in my Birchbox. I can never have enough of it. This body was by Not Soap, Radio had a light, fresh scent that mellowed out nicely. If I could have traded out every other item of my Birchbox for more of this stuff, I would have done so happily. 

  

 

The bonus item I received was a post card from Atelier. At least they got one thing right. I always save post cards because I have a slight addiction to stationary of all kinds. I don’t know if post cards count as stationary, but they still make me smile. Overall, this wasn’t my favorite Birchbox by a long shot. Hopefully May proves to be better.

  

March 2015 Birchbox 

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I did a Birchbox review. I promise, I’ll try to be more regular with it going forward. I actually thought about going back and doing one huge review on all the boxes I have received over the past year, but who has time for that?

  

 

The first item in my March 2015 box was the Elite Therapeutic Body Crème in Rosemary Eucalyptus. I prefer herbal scents to flowery ones, so this was right up my alley. The smell was nice and fresh without being overpowering. I have really dry hands, and this crème moisturizes them nicely. An 8 ounce tube sells for $19.00 in the Birchbox store, and I am considering making the splurge.

  

 

The product I was most excited about trying was the Macadamia Natural Oil Nourishing Moisture Masque. I am a conditioner junkie, and I’m ashamed to admit that I hoard it more than any other product. This masque was super thick, which I loved. It didn’t have the “slip” I am accustomed to with most conditioners, so I didn’t have high hopes for it. But goodness, the shine my hair had afterwards! I am head over heels in love. An 8 ounce jar sells for $36 in the Birchbox store. It’s a little rich for my pockets considering how often I change up my hair care routine, but I am not completely opposed to purchasing it.

  

 

The Roloxin Lift Revitalizing Facial Masque Treatment sells for a hefty $11 per packet, and I received two of them in my box. That’s more than double the amount I spent on the box itself! I had high expectations considering the price tag, but this product wasn’t for me. It is supposed to deliver face lift-like results that last for 24 hours, but the sensitivity of my skin meant itchy hives instead for 24 hours. Even after applying hydrocortisone cream, my face was full of red splotches. It’s probably an amazing product for someone whose skin isn’t hypersensitive, but it’s a no go for me.

  

 

I love getting lip gloss in my boxes. Those of you who have seen my Instagram feed have witnessed how often stuff from my boxes goes unused, but lip gloss never falls in that category. Somehow, Birchbox does a great job with picking out a suitable shade for my skin tone. I liked that the Smashbox Be Legendary gloss I received in Disco Rose didn’t feel sticky and had some staying power (at least, as much staying power you can get from a gloss). It sells for $20 in the Birchbox store. I have never spent that much on lipgloss in my life but in my experience, Smashbox products are worth the splurge.

  

 

Finally, I also received a Jelly Pong Pong Glow Getter Highlighter. I have never used highlighter in my life. I know, what a sorry excuse for a Birchboxer I am. Who doesn’t use highlighter? Me, apparently. I don’t even know how to apply it properly, even after watching a tutorial about 7 times in a row. The color complements my skin tone nicely though, so maybe I’ll just put some on my eye lids and hope for the best.

  

 

All in all, I liked my box this month. While not crazy about that Roloxin (I’ll gift that to someone whose skin isn’t as finicky as mine), the lip gloss and hair masque more than made up for it. 

 

 

This is slightly off topic, but Birchbox has been sending some beautifully patterned boxes out in place of their standard plain brown. The hoarder in me can’t bear to part with them, so I was really excited to stumble across pics posted by a fellow Birchboxer who used hers as drawer organizers. It was the best idea I have ever taken away from Instagram. Instead of having all my junk/products thrown into a huge bag and stuffed under the bathroom sink, it’s neatly organized into categories. I’m much more likely to use this stuff now. And my pretty boxes aren’t going to waste stacked on my closet floor.