Always Aubrey: April 2015

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: Moodstruck 3D Fiber Lashes from Younique

Okay, while I'm sick of people advertising "It Works" wraps and embroidered bag parties on Facebook (I don't mind the items themselves, it's just the sheer volume!), I was intrigued when I saw a few folks having Younique parties, especially around Moodstruck 3D Fiber Lashes.  I'm just not blessed in the lashes department.  So I decided to bite the $29 bullet and try it myself.


The kit comes in a hard case that reminds me of a glasses case.  It has two tubes inside, one with the application gel (which resembles mascara) and another with the fibers.  Yes, this actually incorporates fibers into your lashes, making them look extended!  I didn't find that they fall into your eye or anything, they just kind of add.  It's a little challenging not to have them get clumpy, but the effect was really great for me!


The first photo is without anything, then the 2nd two are post-application.  I find it's easiest to do one eye at a time, with gel, fibers, then gel again.  You can put mascara on first or curl lashes for a greater effect, but I wanted to review just the kit itself here.


I like the photo of my entire face because suddenly it looks like I have eyeliner on even though I don't!  Can you imagine if I actually knew how to do eye makeup?  :)

Before and After

Overall, I found application to be easy, and that the effect was clear and noticeable.  I'm definitely going to make this a part of my beauty routine, because it is the best way to get lashes without falsies that I've found so far.  Is it worth the $29?  To me it is, because of the effect.  I didn't do my bottom lashes, but I bet you could do those too.  I'm glad I bought them to try, and I hope you find this review to be useful!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Budgeting Bloggers: April 2015

Somehow, I ended up selling more than I spent in April.  I think it was an unintentional record or something.  It was not a heavy shopping month to me, mainly because I spent so much time away from home either wrapping up Peru or in Arizona for a week.  I bought quite a bit more than this, but I returned almost everything because I wasn't happy with the fit.

  1. Porto Cruz 3/4-Sleeve Crochet Tunic Cover-Up in Navy ($38 retail, paid $20):  This got some great compliments at my resort trip to Arizona!  The navy color is perfect as my suits are red, royal blue, and mixed print, so it goes with them all.  I got free shipping by having it sent to my local JCPenney, and I tried on my goods in-store and returned what I didn't want to keep.  I like that method of shopping, because I save money and even a little time.
  2. Pixley Bixby Dot Print 3/4 Tab Sleeve Blouse via Stitch Fix ($48, FREE with referral credits):  I kept one item from my most recent Fix.  Will review the whole box soon!  I had two $25 credits from people getting their first Stitch Fixes via my referral link, so that made it free for me.
  3. Blue Scarf ($3, not pictured): I bought a soft, blue scarf of unknown brand at Last Chance in Arizona.  I didn't need another scarf, but that's just par for the course.
I also bought sunglasses in Arizona when my cheap pair broke, so I considered that a 1:1 replacement.  I also bought a few white dresses for an upcoming DAR event, but since that's tax-deductible/event-focused I didn't count it here either.  I bought everything at bargain prices for specific occasion use.

Don't forget to check out the rest of the Budgeting Bloggers at Franish!

$23 spent - $26 Posh = $0 total spent
$66 savings

Total 2015 Net Spending: Q1 $616 + $0 = $616

Want to see what's newly listed in my Poshmark closet for sale?  Check it out!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Peru: Recap

This is the final post for our Peru trip, with a list of all the posts and a bit of the odds and ends gathered from our total experience.  I've really enjoyed sharing this trip in detail with all of you; I am using the same narrative written to create our printed photo album of the experience.  Please let me know anytime if you ever have any questions!

Peru Blog Posts:

Odds & Ends:
  • Passport:  You'll need your passport, as well as the little paper from immigration, to check in at all of your hotels as well as for entrance into Machu Picchu.  Don't lose the paper; tuck it into your passport and remember when you'll need it.
  • Altitude & Sun:  Bring Ibuprofen to help in case you have altitude sickness.  Even better, adjust your itinerary so you spend time in the Sacred Valley vs. Cusco in the beginning of your trip, as Cusco is higher up than Machu Picchu and the valley.  We also drank the coca tea which at least had a positive placebo effect; we did not experience altitude sickness, just shortness of breath while hiking/climbing steep steps.  In addition, even on cloudy days the sun exposure is strong.
  • Safety/Language:  I felt safer in Peru than I have in many other countries.  I took precautions, such as wearing my bag/camera in the front in crowded places, and we made sure our passports were secure.  I felt like people were less aggressive; even when they're making a hard sell, an insistent "No, gracias" is usually met with a kind, "Okay, maybe tomorrow!"  In addition, most people in the very touristy areas speak a decent amount of English; that said, why not try your Spanish?
  • Motion Sickness:  I found that a Dramamine on the days we were on the road (think curvy, switchback elevations), in a train, or flying in/out of Cusco (elevation, so the take-off and landing is kind of steep) helped me.  I do tend to get motion sickness, and the bus ride up and down to Machu Picchu was a challenge when I forgot the medicine.  I'm sure the altitude doesn't help.
  • Toilet Paper:  Even at high-end restaurants and hotels, you may notice a trash can in your bathroom stall and signs that ask you to throw your used toilet paper into the can.  The plumbing/pipes in the country are inconsistent, so flushing your TP might cause an unpleasant blockage.  It's a weird habit to break during the trip, so just forewarning you!
  • Showers:  Don't always expect H&C to designate Hot and Cold.  Remember C = Caliente = Hot, and F = Frio = Cold.  I got into a cold shower because the "F" knob I assumed to be hot like fire or fuego... LOL!
  • Cash:  Touristy locations like some places in Cusco, as well as the Lima airport, accept U.S. dollars.  I used an ATM to get Soles (the local currency) vs. the Money Exchange places because I think the exchange rate is better, and my bank reimburses ATM fees.  At the time we visited $1 = about 3 Soles.
  • Taxis:  We didn't take any taxis, but just know that some of them are authorized and some are not... and it's hard to tell between the two.  If you do take a cab, remember they don't use meters, so you negotiate upfront what the cost is going to be.
  • Shopping:  We didn't buy anything really high-end, but we love the souvenirs we took home.  You can get hats, scarves, sweaters, socks, and bags in vibrant colors and patterns.  We also took home some pisco liquor via Duty Free on the way home, for a great price.  I loved feeling how soft the items were and choosing from the assortment in markets.  Sure, the cheaper stuff is probably made in China, but the alpaca is sourced in Cusco and you can't beat the prices after a little negotiation.  We were paying around $5 for a hat or scarf, a bit more for a blanket, and we got a duffle to bring it all home for under $20.  That said, you can also by pure alpaca, baby alpaca, fair trade alpaca, or vicuña, and pay in the hundreds of dollars.  We just needed to bring home small items to remember the trip and gift to friends and family.

Do you think you'd like to visit Peru?
Let me know if you have any questions!


Monday, April 27, 2015

Peru: What to Eat

One of the make-or-break aspects of traveling abroad is whether or not you like the food.  It's true!  Lucky for me, the food in Peru was absolutely delicious.  My friend at work gave me a list of must-try dishes, so I made sure to sample them throughout the week.  In general, you can eat and drink for a song in Peru, with quick eats as low as $1-5 a meal.  In the nicer restaurants we ate in, even the highest end dishes maxed out around $20, so it was very reasonable overall.  We even had a bottle of wine one night that cost us $7US, because there really wasn't much markup!


One dish you will see everywhere in various forms is lomo saltado.  Lomo saltado is a stir fry with strips of steak, onions, tomatoes, and other ingredients, served with French fries and rice.  We really liked it, so we had it a few times during the week.  Throughout Peru's history, there was an influx of Chinese immigrants who influenced Peruvian cuisine, creating "chifa" foods that became mainstream like this dish.  We had this dish at our hotel restaurant at San Agustin Monasterio de la Recoleta, as well as in Cusco.

lomo saltado
Lomo saltado

Tallarin saltado is created in the same spirit.  It is a chicken stir-fry dish with noodles.  I had a delicious tallarin saltado at Pachapapa in Cusco.

tallarin saltado
Tallarin saltado

The last Chinese-inspired fusion dish I had was at our hotel, cerdo en salsa de naranja, a pork chop with orange sauce, served with vegetables and sweet potatoes.  The potatoes were as sweet as a dessert.  In fact, the potatoes we had throughout the trip were amazing, because Peru grows thousands of varieties.

Cerdo en salsa de naranja

We had a fantastic tasting menu lunch at 3 Keros, a wonderful restaurant in Urubamba with inspired flavors.  This included quinoa, which originated in the Andean region, as well as papas a la Huancaína, a Peruvian appetizer of boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy, creamy sauce.  You will also see a lot of fresh vegetables and types of corn (like giant, white corn kernels!) in dishes.  Delicious.  I highly recommend 3 Keros; the dessert was a key lime pie, and even though I don't like key lime pie I ate the entire thing.  So good!

3 Keros

In Cusco at Inka Grill, I ate anticuchos, marinated beef heart kebabs.  They were very chewy and flavorful.  I'm not sure if I would try them again, but I am glad I had them as a specialty in Peru.  The waiter seemed surprised when I ordered them, in a good way.


anticuchos
Antichucos

Another common dish to see is aji de gallina, which is shredded chicken in a spicy cream sauce, very similar to the sauce in papas a la Huancaína.  Both sauces use a yellow spicy pepper.  It often comes garnished with olives and hard-boiled egg.  It was tasty, and super filling.  I had this at Inka Grill as well.

Aji de gallina

At Limo in Cusco, I took the plunge into a true Peruvian delicacy: cuy.  Yes, guinea pig.  This is something that weirds people out about Peru, but for many years it was a ceremonial meal.  It is an important part of the culture.  According to Wikipedia, "Peruvians consume an estimated 65 million guinea pigs each year, and the animal is so entrenched in the culture that one famous painting of the Last Supper in the main cathedral in Cusco shows Christ and the 12 disciples dining on guinea pig."

I would say guinea pig reminded me of rabbit.  It was prepared beautifully at Limo, served over delicious au gratin potatoes.  The best way to eat guinea pig is with your hands; they give you a dish of water and towel to wash up, much like eating BBQ ribs.  The crispy skin was tasty.  I'm not sure if I would eat it again (all those little bones!) but I don't think you should leave Peru without trying it.

Cuy

Throughout our trip, we were frequently offered coca tea, mate de coca.  This tea is made from coca leaves, the same leaves that in enormous quantities make cocaine.  The tea, however, is not potent like the drug, and it is recommended to help travelers prevent altitude sickness and other medicinal purposes.  It can cause you to come up positive on drug tests due to the alkaloids, so try to find a tea bag that has them removed if you want to try it.

Mate de coca

I would be remiss not to mention ceviche, which we consumed mostly during our cooking class.  If you've never had ceviche, it's typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, with spices added.  It's well-known in Peru, and you can get some really fresh and delicious ceviche of shrimp and mahi mahi and other fishes in the area.

Ceviches

Lastly, we definitely drank delicious beverages in Peru.  From Cusqueña Beer to sangria to pisco sours to chilcanos, you can enjoy refreshing sips throughout the trip.  Pisco is a big part of the alcohol scene.  Pisco sour is the most famous cocktail, with pisco, egg white, simple syrup, and citrus juice.  Chilcano is another cocktail you'll often see, which reminds me of a mojito; it has pisco, lime, ginger ale, and bitters.  YUM!

Beer, Sangria, Pisco Sour, Chilcano

Which of these would you most like to try?
Would you eat guinea pig???


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Peru: Where to Stay

A lot of people have asked about our accommodations in Peru, and where we stayed.  The nice thing about Peru is that you can stay the night for $10 at a hostel dorm, all the way up to luxury resort hotels at $600/night.  They really run the entire spectrum.  The downside is, that means you have to do your research to find the right fit.  Luckily for us, Kuoda Travel made all of our travel arrangements; I approved the selections based on price and visiting websites.  In fact, every hotel we stayed at happened to be in our guidebook, which was reassuring too.


We arrived in Lima at nearly midnight, so for our first bed we walked literally across the street to the Costa del Sol hotel, a basic but modern airport hotel.  It met our needs for the night, with a very large room, nice amenities, and a stark but modern look.  I believe it is transitioning from a Ramada to a Wyndham property.  I definitely slept well given the extensive travel day!  They also gave us a free drink upon check-in.

In the Sacred Valley (Urubamba, specifically), we stayed at San Agustin Monasterio de la Recoleta‎.  We were actually a little nervous as we headed towards the hotel, as it's in a very rural area that isn't much to look at.  But as you pull into the gates, you realize you're entering into an oasis.  The boutique hotel used to be a 16th-century Franciscan monastery, and our two nights there were absolutely wonderful.  We ate at the restaurant both nights, as well as the continental breakfast buffet.  The grounds were stunning, and it was so quiet.  There is a fence enclosing the property as well, so you really feel safe and secluded.  It is probably a little more dated than its website photos imply, and the Wifi was spotty, but the business center internet was good and we were greeted with coca tea.  We stayed in one of the older rooms, but I highly recommend that for more character vs. the modern ones.

Our bedroom window had a kneeling area that I imagine a monk once used.

In Aguas Calientes, we spent a night at Inkaterra's El MaPi hotel.  We were welcomed with a complimentary Pisco Sour at happy hour, and our agency's reservation included a lovely prix-fixe dinner as well as breakfast.  The rooms in the hotel were ultra modern, very IKEA chic and clean.  We loved the view of the mountains from our window, though it did overlook a bit of the shantytown bits of the city.  That's all character though.  The bathroom (mainly the shower!) was my favorite of the trip, again all very modern.  Wifi was fairly reliable here too.  If I were to really splurge, I would have spent the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo, one of the country's nicest hotels at a price around $600/night.  But El MaPi was wonderful for what we needed.


In Cusco, we stayed for two nights at the Casa San Blas, a boutique hotel where we were housed in one of the apartment-style loft rooms.  There was a kitchenette with very affordable mini-bar ($1 waters and sodas, $2 beer) and a nice bathroom.  The bed and TV were upstairs in the loft, with a 2nd story window of the Cusco skyline.  Casa San Blas is only a couple blocks from the main plaza in town, so it made everything very walkable.  It was also very close to gift shops for souvenirs.


Overall, I found that our "matrimonio" double rooms were ample for us.  There were some aspects of the hotels that felt a little aged, but not unclean or negative.  We chose to stay in mid-range boutique hotels that had charm to them, and with the exception of the single night near the airport, all of them were unique and memorable in nice ways.  I think that overall I've learned that you can really choose your own adventure, and accommodations, easily in Peru, whether on a backpacker budget or a luxury traveler's credit card.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Peru, Day 7: Lima

Since international flights tend to leave Lima very late at night, we had a day to enjoy Lima after departing Cusco.  We bid farewell to our Cusco team from Kuoda and were met at the airport by our Lima driver and guide.  First, we were driven to the beautiful Miraflores neighborhood on the coast, to enjoy lunch and the view.



Then, we were driven to downtown/historic Lima to view some of the architecture and main sights.  It was a Good Friday, so the city was jam-packed with people celebrating and walking between churches.  We were able to see the main plaza with their large cathedral and Presidential palace, both built on former Incan sites of importance by the colonial powers.




We also visited a very special old house, Casa de Aliaga.  Reputed to be the oldest Colonial mansion in Lima and possibly South America, it is a stone's throw from the Presidential palace with an unassuming entrance.  Definitely a hidden gem you wouldn't even know about unless you read or heard about it!  It has a beautiful interior and has been continuously occupied by the same family since it was built.



After the house, we visited another church, the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco. We did not go inside due to the crowds, but I loved the color and architecture.


We then set off on a driving tour through Lima, back towards Miraflores.  We saw an old archaeological site that is still being excavated, and finished at a seaside park, El Parque del Amor, a romantic spot that signaled the end of our Peru adventures.






Friday, April 17, 2015

Peru, Day 6: Cooking Class

One of the highlights of our trip was our afternoon spent at Marcelo Batata Cooking Class with Chef Ebelin.  I looooooove food, and when I saw a cooking class on my friend's old Peru itinerary I had to add it to ours too.


The class begins with an introduction to Peruvian food.  Ebelin introduced us to the native ingredients and techniques of the area, described what Peruvians eat, and more.  I was surprised by how much I didn't know that I didn't know... about food in general!  (Did you know the quinoa trend started in Peru?  Or that the country doesn't permit GMOs?  Superfood!)

The special room for learning about Peruvian ingredients!




Throughout the class, the restaurant brought us little bites of hors d'oeuvres, including delicious ceviche, a popular offering in Peru.

Ceviche

Next, we had a fruit tasting, focused on native fruits that Americans don't see every day.  We tried aguaymanto, tumbo, and passion fruits, and more.  The weirdest one to me was lucuma, which tasted kind of caramel-y!  Not like a fruit at all, which means it's a great healthy sweetener that can be used in ice cream and other things.


The first dish we actually prepared ourselves was a mahi mahi ceviche.  I'm not into seafood, but this was really tasty!  Chef Ebelin walked us through everything step-by-step, including reminding us not to touch our faces after de-seeding hot peppers.  I totally would have forgotten that!  (You let them know your dietary restrictions before class starts, by the way!)

Chef Ebelin
Dan's plated appetizer: ceviche!
After enjoying our appetizer, we then went into a history of pisco, a brandy famous in the region.  We tasted three varieties of pisco (woo!  It's like sipping vodka or something, a clear liquor around 40% ABV) and then learned to make two cocktails: pisco sour, and chilcano.  I really liked that Ebelin incorporated some creatively-infused piscos; it made me want to infuse alcohol back home!


After getting sufficiently tipsy on pisco, I got to play with fire.  Kidding!  But there were flames and smoke, as we kicked off our main event: alpaca saltado.  We'd been eating lomo saltado during our trip, and this stir-fry version replaced the beef with alpaca.  Alpaca is very lean, and low-fat...  it's kind of the perfect red meat without the unhealthy stuff.  Ebelin demonstrated the technique for us first.


Then, it was our turn!  Ebelin gave us each step, and we made our own stir-fry.  The climactic moment was when we tossed some pisco into the pan, creating big flames for effect.

Notice my face is red from the pisco tasting... LOLZ


Overall, I had a lot of fun with the wok.  I wasn't as good at flipping stuff in it as Dan, but I had a good time nonetheless.  We plated up the alpaca saltado with the requisite fries and rice, then headed to the dining room to eat it.


Our dessert was prepared for us, a death by chocolate platter with truffle, mousse, and molten cake.  Incredible.  I ate soooo much throughout this class.  You don't really need to eat anything beforehand, because you basically never stop eating.  (I didn't even include photos of everything we ate, because I was too busy stuffing my face to take photos.)  It was such a cool experience!  I really enjoyed getting to know Peru's gastronomy via the class, and I'm glad we were able to spend the afternoon learning from Ebelin.




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