Happy Halloween/Samhain everyone! In light of the day, I have read several articles online about the "sexy costume" phenomenon and thought I would comment as well. It has annoyed me for a while now and am glad to see attention paid to it, at Power Femme's blog here and at Ms. Magazine's blog here. I haven't dressed up for Halloween in years and am doing a big lot of nothing tonight, but I know when I was growing up my mom helped me actually make my costume and Halloween was a huge deal that revolved mostly around obtaining mass quantities of candy. While throughout the years I was a ghoulish ghost,a cat, a genie, a fairy, a dead rock star, or whatever, my intent was never to be the sexiest fill-in-the-blank I could be. That element just never entered my consciousness as necessary or desired, and it wasn't really all that long ago. Something seems to have shifted in the social consciousness in recent years, and it really concerns me.

I posted a comment on Power Femme's post and want to re-post with some elaboration here, as it sums up my feelings about this:

I get so pissed when I get those Halloween store ads in the mail and there is this glaring disconnect between men and women's costumes. I did a quick perusal of the Halloween Express website and they even have a "sexy costume" sub category. Guess how many "sexy men's" costumes were included there? Yeah, none. But in the men's costumes you could find classic superheroes, doctors, pirates, silly costumes, gory costumes, a wide variety that were for the most part more inventive and creative in subject and execution. Sure, women can dress up as superheroes or doctors or pirates, but they must be "SEXY" superheroes, doctors, or pirates, thereby rendering them powerless, not a threat to the current societal model, and not to be taken seriously. Almost a self-inflicted joke, an apology. Like, sure, I'm a doctor, but just a "sexy" doctor, so don't feel nervous, boys. It's just make-believe. But it's not make-believe. Plenty of women are doctors and they didn't go through medical school solely to make their male patients' blood pressure rise. So why do these costumes reduce them to sexualized stereotypes? It's disturbing. It's the Female Chauvinist Pig concept: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. It seems some women, in an attempt to avoid being labeled a feminist, ugly, a prude, a dyke, all those horrible undesirable things, find it easier to just become who oppresses them, to prove that they are tough and can roll with the big boys and not get their feathers all ruffled at good-natured jokes, because if they're objectifying themselves, it's not so damned scary or infuriating...

Women feel a pressure to be "sexy" (but not too much now, as Emilie Autumn says in Opheliac "she knows in society she is either a devil or an angel, with no in-between) in everyday life. But who's definition of sexiness? Who decides and owns that expression, and how much is for the approval of others  rather than sincerely one's own sexual expression? Beauty is a goal women are expected to constantly be striving for, and Halloween is a day in which you're expected to take your appearance to an extreme-therefore, it's seen as strange if a woman tries to be gory, silly, powerful, or cute without the "sexy" component. Women are seen as more valuable and worthwhile when they conform to a narrow definition of beauty and sexiness, so the costumes reflect that goal. Men are already seen as worthwhile just by virtue of their mere existence, so they don't need to wear costumes to look "hot" to win the approval of women. They're free to be whatever they want.

It's almost like the more advances women make in the world politically, professionally, inter personally, the more the definition of beauty narrows, to confine women in different ways. Caroline Knapp says in her thought-provoking book Appetites: Why Women Want: "Women get psychically larger, and they're told to grow physically smaller. Women begin to play active roles in realms once dominated by men (schools, universities, athletic fields, the workplace, the bedroom), and they're countered with images of femininity that infantilize them, render them passive and frail and non-threatening." I think you can see this in play throughout American history. Take a look at how women in general were doing socio-politically during a given time period, then look at the beauty standards that emerged during that time. There just might be a correlation. And now, some might see the whole costume conundrum as frivolous and just innocent fun, but there is something sinister going on here. Consider even the kid's costumes; you can see the dichotomy already in play. The sexualization of little girls is starting earlier and earlier. There has always been that princess/cowboy sort of construct, but many of the girl's costumes are looking more and more like those creepy Bratz. Society seems intent on telling girls what matters and what they're worth before they can even figure it out for themselves.

OK. Rant over. Goodnight now. I'm going to go eat some candy.
Yeah, pretty much what the title says. I was away for a minibreak this weekend and for reasons I will discuss soon haven't until recently had my computer at my disposal, so I've been a bit MIA lately. Iz sorry. I will be back soon with a post on my eventful weekend, an overdue review of a Solstice Scents haul, a REALLY overdue review of Meow Cosmetics Pandora's Box Collection which has been gathering dust in my drafts folder, and other random tidbits I can't think of at the moment. I've been having these nagging feelings of guilt and stress over not having written in a week and I had to stop myself and say "wait a minute! This is my bloody blog and I will write when I'm damn good and ready! Nobody's going to die because they have to wait an extra day or two to read my thoughts on soap and other fripperies." But if I'm quite lucky someone out there might actually be waiting somewhat anxiously for said thoughts. Wouldn't that be lovely? Ah, the power.
It's been a while since I've shared some EOTDs with you all so...
I got a mini order from BFTE a few weeks ago when they came out with a new color, Dragon Slayer, and made it COTW. It sold out before the week was over, but I was lucky enough to get my mitts on this pretty little fellow. I also ordered Glimpse as a prize for the 365 contest, and samples of Ornamental and Seduction. I didn't intend it this way, but upon receiving my colors I realized put together they all made a really gorgeous autumnal color palette.

Top: Glimpse, Dragon Slayer
Bottom: Ornamental, Seduction

After a decidedly ho-hum Birchbox in September, I was really hoping they would step up their game for October. And I must say I am pretty pleased with this month's box. No nail polish, no perfume, just a nice selection of products to try. Here's what I got:

  1. Amika Obliphica Hair Treatment
  2. Anastasia Beverly Hills HydraFull Gloss
  3. Clark's Botanicals Intense Radiance Mask
  4. Laura Geller Spackle Tinted Under Makeup Primer in Bronze
  5. The Laundress Wool & Cashmere Shampoo

This is one of those boxes where I will enjoy everything in it for what it's worth, but not really to the degree of needing to order a full size because I can never be without it again. But that's OK. I literally can't afford to adore every product I try anyway. So much of the experience is simply enjoying new things, and focusing on a few totally stellar products to save up for (for me, I'm getting close to getting a Juice Beauty Apple Peel with my Birchbox Points).

I have gotten a few hair/body oils in Birchboxes before, so I didn't really need anymore, especially considering how fine my hair is and easily weighed down. That said, I really like this treatment. It smells wonderful and the bottle is fairly large and will last a while since you only need a couple drops per use. It didn't seem to make my hair greasy and actually left it feeling nice and soft. My hair does get staticky and prone to fly aways during the winter, so maybe this will help.

The lip gloss is quite tiny, but the color is a flattering peach, and it feels nice on. Nothing to write home about, but useful to keep in a cramped purse.

I love masks and peels and would be blissfully happy if every Birchbox I got contained one, so I was pleased to get the Clark's mask. Going to enjoy this, but the full size price tag of 72 dollars is a bit prohibitive.

I also love trying new primers and radiance serums, so I was excited to try the Spackle. It looks quite dark in the tube, but it has a light gel consistency, and goes from looking like this:

To this upon blending:

So while the tint is not a problem for fair skin, I don't think it works as well as my favorite primer, Avon Magix Face Perfector. It didn't really mattify my skin upon application. After a day of wearing the Spackle my face felt oilier and my makeup didn't seem to last as long. It might work better for drier skin types.

The Laundress shampoo was an interesting addition. I haven't used it yet, but think it would be great to take along for weekend trips if you want to hand wash your delicates.

All in all, this was a much better box that some I've gotten previously. As a new company, there will certainly be some growing pains for Birchbox, but hopefully the recent run of bummer boxes has been a learning experience for them and they will continue to expand and improve. This box was a great start.

Terribly sorry for the lack of posts this week. I had a cold and was rendered unable to smell anything or take a decent picture. Nothing was more frustrating than having picked up my Haus of Gloi package from the post office, opening it with glee, and then muttering with confusion, "it doesn't smell like much." Quickly I realized that I'd been sneezing all day, feeling generally "meh", and had no appetite. Therefore, the problem was me, not my order! So I decided to wait it out until I could actually smell these with any degree of accuracy.

This is just a little order, and some are scents I've already reviewed, so I will pass over them briefly.

I got:

Whipped Soap in Pumpkin Eater
Lip Balm in Pumpkin Cheesecake
Moon Dog Pumpkin Butter sample
Honey Tree Emulsifying Scrub sample
Depravity Bubbling Scrub Sample
free sample of Peaches and Cream Gumball

I was really eager to try the whipped soap. Unfortunately, when I got it, it looked like it had melted and re-solidified at some point. I don't fault HoG for this at all, as the temperature had been quite cool when I ordered and then was around 80 again around the time I received it. It looked a little sad:

But all I had to do was stir it with a spoon vigorously and it came back to life. See? Much better!

Plus it was such a yummy orange hue and had little bits of spices in it, so it was quite rustic looking. It smells more straight, classic pumpkin spice than Pumpkin Queen does, and has a definite buttery note as well.This really smells and looks like an edible concoction, I have to remind myself to refrain from tasting every time I use it! It is quite dense and creamy, like a rich butter cream frosting, but it foams up magically when using a bath
pouf-y thing. It did deflate a little when I stirred it, so it lost some volume, but it still works fine. I even tried using it as a shaving cream and it performed well. Since the container is fairly small (3 ounces by weight in a six ounce jar) that would not be very practical or cost-effective for regular usage, but it's nice to know I could use it in a pinch. I wish they sold the General Catalog scents in whipped soap too!

The lip balm is great, reminiscent of Pumpkin Eater in scent, and is moisturizing, non-greasy, and colorless. I love the seasonal flavor options, too!

Depravity is a scent I hadn't tried before. When I opened the jar when I was sick, all I could smell was a fruity wine scent. Once I got better though and used it in the shower, it bloomed to include a wonderful spicy note sort of like Moon Dog, which is really growing on me. I think I want to get  Moon Dog in a perfume at some point. It has such an interesting, mature coconut scent, but not a tropical, super-sweet, drink-with-an-umbrella-in-it coconut, but dry, woodsy, spicy. Fantastic. Honey Tree in scrub form smells pretty much the same as the perfume, perhaps a little less potent on the initial notes. For me, it's a hate it and love it scent. I hate it at first, and then when it mellows out, I love it!

I am definitely not a Peaches and Cream type person, so I didn't even try it. I think I may just put the sample in someone's stocking this year.

That's all for today; thanks for reading!

This rather unusual sounding concoction was, in a way, born of necessity. See, I come across lots of recipes I want to try, but don't always have the time to try them one at a time. So, what to do? Just make a frankencake! I pick and choose the elements of each recipe I like, mash them all together, and hope that what emerges is, if not beautiful, at least edible, and if I'm really lucky, nomtastic.

It started when I saw this recipe for Thai Cashew Brittle in this month's issue of Cooking Light Magazine. Now, I am a sucker for that salty-sweet dichotomy and the idea of that combined with Thai spiciness was enthralling. Candy making is fairly new to me. I started making homemade marshmallows for Christmas last year and found I have an affinity for it. I made a dark chocolate chipotle marshmallow rolled in chocolate sprinkles that was nomtastic to the enth degree. Blew Jet-Puffed right out of the water!

 Brittle, though, was a little intimidating. Might have been that
 boiling- hot- sugar- thing, much hotter than marshmallow base I had grown comfortable with. But I decided to go for it, and because I'm not really a person to eat handfuls of brittle on their own, I figured it would taste best as a topping to a cake, something slightly spicy to complement the exotic flavors in the brittle. And then, top it with a spiced chocolate ganache, because, well, why not?

But patience, precious. First, the brittle. This is what I used:

The Cooking Light recipe calls for lemongrass and fresh ginger. I'm not really fond of lemongrass, so I left it out, and figured powdered ginger would work fine. Sambal Oelek is a Thai chili paste, packed with flavor, so that is a must. Luckily I always keep some on hand. The nuts, Sambal Oelek, ginger, baking soda, and butter are all added off heat as soon as the water, corn syrup and sugar mixture arrives at 335 degrees F.

You also need a candy thermometer, and you have to watch it very carefully. Once the mixture starts to boil, don't disturb it. Just watch. I was
 a little nervous about how long it was taking for the temperature to rise, but just keep waiting. It took mine about 30 minutes. But eventually it changes from this:

To this:

Once it reaches 335, remove from heat, add the extra goodies (my mixture did bubble aggressively), and mix quickly. Pour it carefully onto a baking sheet lined with greased  parchment paper.
Work quickly because it starts to set up almost immediately. I also sprinkled my brittle with a little cinnamon for good measure.

And voila, I made brittle! I was pretty proud of myself.

This needs to set for two hours, but while it's setting up you can make the cake.
I found this pumpkin cake on Martha Stewart's website. I like that it is just one layer.
Not too much, not too little.

The whole brown butter icing element with this recipe will be omitted, and the chili ganache added instead.

So, prepare the cake according to the directions. I add a little pumpkin pie spice to the batter as well.

The batter turns out very light and frothy, almost like a chiffon cake. Not sure why, but once baked it is very moist and rich.

After the cake has baked and cooled, you're ready to make the ganache. Ganache is a super simple recipe, but there are still variations depending on what you want to do with it. I used 3/4 cup whipping cream to 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate chips. This is where I messed up. OK, it still made an awesome, luscious, sinfully good ganache. But it ended up being too much for that relatively small cake, and a bit too thick. It set up more like a ganache you'd use for truffle making. My bad. Next time I would use perhaps 1/2 cup cream to 4-6 ounces of chocolate. Though honestly I didn't hear G complaining about the ganache being too thick.

Whichever ratio of cream/chocolate you use, the technique is the same. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and heat just until boiling. I added a pinch of ginger and chili powder. This time I used chipotle but next time I might try curry powder or perhaps garam masala.

The moment the cream starts to boil, pour it directly over the chocolate chips.

Let it settle for a moment, then stir very gently.

Keep stirring, and like magic
that lumpy mess will turn into a pool of rich, spicy chocolate joy.

Let it cool for a few minutes, and while it cools
break up the brittle into shards. I used a meat mallet, which
gets the aggression out. Another suggestion, I thought I'd be artsy and arrange big honking shards of brittle on the cake, which is an okay idea, but upon re-consideration I decided next time I would run the larger pieces through my food processor. I think I was just impatient and wanted the cake, like,
yesterday. Oh, and a word of caution: the brittle has kick.
But somehow the mix of sweet pumpkin, spicy chocolate, and salty, exotic candy all work together to make a pretty nomtastic cake, if I do say so myself.

I kept this covered in foil on the counter for a few days. The brittle did soften a bit on the cake, which is actually good for sensitive teeth!

I've already written a somewhat massive First Impressions review of Solstice Scents, so if you are new to the company, please check it out here. My perception has only gotten more positive with my second order, which I received last Monday, 9/26. I ordered on 9/22, which makes the TAT just ridiculously fast. I was truthfully surprised to get my box so quickly. But it's what's inside the box that really matters. First, the packaging was gorgeous: lots of Halloween paper fill, leaves, moss, and putka pods (those little pumpkin-looking thingys). I didn't look too closely in my last order and really thought they were little craft pumpkins like you might pick up at Michael's Crafts. It was so neat to realize they were natural!

The packaging is lovely, but the actual products are impressing me more and more. I ordered a 3 piece perfume sampler, the Oatmeal, Coconut, Milk, and Honey Mask, Body Ganache in Manor, Manor Perfume, and Crumbling Crypt Bath Salts.
Here is my order:

Now, if you're uber-observant you might notice that I have 4 more perfume samples than I mentioned getting, the 3 piece sampler. That's because Angela threw in 2 extra samples on top of the one you automatically get with every order because they accidentally left out my extra-extra sample from my first order. Which I totally never expected them to do, but I certainly wouldn't argue with more perfume goodness being sent my way. So that makes 6. And then, just because they are
awesome, I got another bonus sample of Conjure. And Angela must have been able to predict my perfume tastes because Conjure is BLISSFUL. Must. Have. Full. Size. Now.
I know I've written before that G and I are huge nature geeks and also love museums/history/old houses, things of that ilk. I started going on tours of old houses with my family as a child and I still enjoy it today. So a couple weeks ago we combined those two interests and went to an area park/1880's living history farm that was having an annual "country fair". I've been going to this place since I was little and I love how it hasn't changed a bit. Even the little old lady volunteering at the penny candy counter in her period attire was there since I can remember up till a year or two ago. I think she finally had to retire, because she must have been...quite old. Like, she came with the furniture.

I enjoy that sort of continuity at times, when things seem so uncertain and fleeting and it's easy to feel adrift. Places like this give me roots, remind me of where I've been and where I'm going. They mark the years, are compasses, guides and provide a sense of comfort that not all I love will disappear on me.

Plus, they sell penny candy, and there are often barn kittehs to be found. And that'll do, donkey, that'll do.

Pictures below!
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