Target's GOOD CHEMISTRY Line

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When I was little and we would go to visit my grandparents in Nashville, I was always excited to play in my grandmother's perfumes. The room I stayed in was the room where she kept her clothes, shoes, and make-up (the perks of being empty-nesters: you can turn a bedroom into a giant closet). She had this mirrored tray that was absolutely crammed with perfume bottles that ranged in age from brand new to what had to have been decades old. Some were sprays, some were roll-on pens, and some even had an atomizer attached. I used to play with them for hours, considering the person I could be based on how I smelled. For me, smelling good was one step to being a real lady, like my mother, like my grandmothers. Scent has always been important to me. As I've grown in age, so too have my tastes.

It feels like just yesterday I was spritzing myself with half a bottle of fruity mists from Bath and Body Works before standing awkwardly in a circle at a middle school dance. Then I became a teenager, right as the height of Paris Hilton's fame, and found myself smelling just like an "Heiress". In college it was cool to smell a little expensive, so I scrounged together the money to smell like the Marc Jacobs and Juicy Couture versions of myself ("Daisy" and "Viva La Juicy" respectively). But nothing has ever really stuck. And maybe nothing really should. I've always thought that the beauty of perfumes is that you can smell whichever way you want, depending on your mood. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. What's not the spice of life? The price of some of these perfumes! A person can easily spend almost $200 dollars on some of today's hottest and most popular scents, and how long do those bottles last? A couple months? I consider myself a woman who is bubbly, but also on a budget.

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As if by magic, Target heard my pleas to continue to be the indecisive scented butterfly that I am, and created a perfume line that is so vast, so delicious-smelling, and most importantly, so affordable that my little heart can barely take it. With four collections to choose from, with prices ranging from $9.99 to $24.99, I have not-so-distant plans to try them all. My room's going to be like a department store fragrance counter, only better, because all my books, snacks, and jammies are here, too.

Here's a run-down of what I like about Target's Good Chemistry:

  • These scents are vegan AND free of parabens, made only from essential oils
  • The packaging for each bottle is beautiful, and so equally matches the scent. Not only does everything smell good, there was conscious thought behind product design as well.
  • There's a scent for everyone. Are you a fan of a fruity scent like strawberry or apricot? Covered. Do you often find yourself in need of a floral scent? You got it. Do you consider yourself a "Queen Bee" or "Daydreamer"? Good Chemistry has even created scents based on powerful personalities. And if you're in search of a more masculine smell, you're in luck: the good smell scientists thought of that as well. So much variety! And between you and me, some of the perfumes I tested in the store could be total dupes for some of the industry's most famous perfumes.
  • And did I mention the affordable price point and ways to apply? You've got your choice of a classic perfume, body spray, or rollerball, depending on your needs. Personally, I NEED all three.

Will I ever completely give up my designer scents? Probably not. But I'll tell you what: Good Chemistry smells good to me!

Find the entire collection here!

Roasted Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

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There are actually no words for how much I love homemade ice cream. Like, it's the most magical experience from boiling the cream to scooping it into the bowl. I love everything about it, and it has completely ruined store-bought ice cream forever. Every year for my birthday (and also, you know, when I feel like I need it), I buy myself a present. For year 24 (which feels like thousands of years ago, by the way), I decided to take the plunge and give myself an ice cream maker. Two days later my lil guy arrived on the doorstep, and we've been happily in love, making ice cream ever since.

Every summer I've managed to take on at least two ice cream projects before the leaves start turning and the fall scarves come out of storage (omg just typing this makes me want to get to fall so badly...), but I've always just found recipes in books or on the internet to try. This summer, I realized that I could just as easily start developing my own recipes for a dairy cream dream. So I started to think about the types of things I enjoy: quirky flavors, varying textures, and a great mouthfeel. Oh, and if i can throw jam (my favorite thing) in the mix, well then, we're doing well. SO, Roasted Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream was born!

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Have you ever roasted strawberries in the oven? If not, YOU ARE MISSING OUT, MY FRIEND. My mind is blown; I've been making jam on the stove when I could've just thrown my strawberries in the oven this whole time. Here's the difference between the stove and the oven: in the oven, you can get a nice, consistent, even heat that gets into those strawberries and gives them that warm, slightly smoky flavor that only hot, hot heat can give them. Roasting your strawberries gives them a more concentrated flavor, and warmth and depth of sweetness that you just can't get any other way. I'm telling ya, it's completely changed the way I'm making jam from now on.

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My favorite part about this ice cream is the creaminess, which absolutely comes from the cream cheese found in the ice cream base. I was very conscious about how I wanted this ice cream to be presented in the mouth. I wanted the dairy to hit the tongue first, then the sweetness of the jam, then finally the wonderful crunchiness and slight saltiness of the graham cracker found both in the ice cream, and as a sprinkling on top, which cuts through some of the sweetness and balances everything out. Did I eat the majority of this ice cream over the span of a week all by myself? Yes. Mission accomplished.

ROASTED STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE ICE CREAM

What You’ll Need

Roasted Strawberry Jam:

  • 4 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 cup sugar
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Graham Cracker Topping:

  • 12 graham crackers, broken into smaller pieces
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 tsp salt

Ice Cream Base:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp cream cheese, softened

DIRECTIONS

Make the Jam:
 Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Combine sugar and strawberries in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Add vanilla and lime juice, then toss to combine.

Roast berries, stirring every ten minutes until the fruit has completely broken down, and the liquid is thick. (Tip: Do the line test. Place the spoon in the jam, then take it out. Try to make a line right down the center of the juice on the spoon. If a clear line can be defined and none of the other liquid on the spoon runs off, your jam is thickened. KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON YOUR JAM ONCE IT HAS PASSED THE LINE TEST; if left unattended it will go from perfectly roasted to burnt. ) This process can take anywhere from 35-90 minutes depending on your oven. (For me, the sweet spot was 75 minutes).

Once it has cooled slightly, transfer jam to a jar or storage container.

Let jam cool completely in the refrigerator at least two hours or overnight.


Make the Graham Cracker Topping:

Pulse graham crackers, butter, sugar, and salt in a food processor until well combined and very fine. Set aside.

Make the Ice Cream Base:
In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup milk and the corn starch, set aside. Place cream cheese in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a 4 qt saucepan, whisk the remaining milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup, and salt together; bring milk mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.

Once your milk mixture is boiling, cook for 4 minutes, then stir in the milk and cornstarch mixture. Return milk mixture to a boil and cook for about two minutes, until the mixture has thickened slightly. Take off the heat.

In the bowl with your cream cheese, pour 1/4 cup of your hot milk mixture that has been strained using a fine mesh sieve, Quickly whisk until smooth. Then, whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture that has also been strained using a fine mesh sieve.

Pour mixture into a gallon plastic bag and seal it. Submerge the bag in a bowl of ice water until chilled; about 10-15 minutes.

Pour mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker, then process according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


Put It All Together

Once your ice cream is ready, gather together your graham cracker topping, and your roasted strawberry jam.

Starting with your ice cream first, layer the ice cream, graham cracker topping, and jam in a storage container (I used a nonreactive metal loaf pan). Add a layer of ice cream first, then spoon in some jam. Place ice cream on top, then sprinkle in some graham cracker, then spoon in more ice cream, etc. Do this until you have run out of ice cream. (Tip: Use discretion; if you want more jam, add more jam. If you want more topping, add more topping. The amount you use is totally up to you!) When ready, cover your storage container with either its lid, or a sheet of plastic wrap then place in the freezer until its is completed frozen; about 3 hours.

Ready to Serve

For an extra depth of texture, sprinkle some of the remaining graham cracker topping over the ice cream, then serve.

DO AHEAD: Jam and graham cracker topping can be made at least a day ahead. Store both in the refrigerator until ready to use.

SOURCE: Ice cream base slightly adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

On My Bookshelf: The Very Short Story Starter by John Gillard

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If you're an aspiring author like me, then you're constantly grappling with what to write and how to write it. It's a daily struggle for me, a person who knows she wants to write, but doesn't know where to start. Enter: The Very Short Story Starter.

I stumbled across this workbook of sorts one day while perusing the university bookstore for as many pieces of varying writing styles and subjects as I could.  I had magazines, literary journals, and a memoir or two all in my possession at one point or another when I wandered over to the "Writing and Publishing" section. There I found this book, unlike any I'd seen before, just filled to the brim with creative writing prompts with unique starters, and limits. If the prompt says keep it to 500 words, you need to figure out a way to make that happen. If there's one thing I know about myself, it's that I often struggle with brevity, with getting to the point as quickly and effectively as possible. As I thumbed through to land on prompts such as "Imagine you are on a train or at a train station when a murder takes place" and "Go to a local coffee shop, order your favorite drink, and write a story inspired by an incident in a coffee shop before you finish your drink" I knew it was coming home with me.

NOW, let's talk about the book's effectiveness. This is not necessarily a quick activity book. While you are prompted to write short works of prose, the assignments you choose are meant to make you sit down and write. And that's a good thing. Many of the prompts provided are entertaining and thought provoking, and really help to get the creative juices flowing. And if you're worried about whether or not this book may lean heavily on the side of fiction or non-fiction, rest assured that there are plenty of prompts that can benefit anyone. My advice? Write in pencil. You never know how very small a number 500 is until you're writing in pen and getting dangerously close to 430 with no story ending in sight.

The good: This book offers an enriching opportunity to hone your writing skills and think creatively. If you're struggling to get started in the world of writing, or just want to jump-start a stagnant writing project or two, this book does wonders to get your brain back in the proper mindset.

The bad: While the book's introduction section does go into detail about why flash fiction has started to gain in popularity (we live in a busy world, and people like short reads they can easily digest on their daily commute, or on a park bench while sipping a latte), the book sort of throws you right into the deep end without easing you in with some simpler prompts to get you ready.

Bottom Line I've thoroughly enjoyed this book so far. It's forced me to put down my phone, turn off the television, and just write. Some prompts have been more compelling to follow-through on than others, but overall, it's done exactly what it has promised: get me problem-solving my writing projects in a way that makes me feel creative and productive. All my aspiring writers should TOTALLY take advantage of Gillard's fantastic resource.

You can buy The Very Short Story Starter: 101 Flash Fiction Prompts by John Gillard HERE.

Lightly Spiced + Everything Nice Christmas Cookies

This year, I am the Christmas Queen. SERIOUSLY. I am so incredibly proud of myself because I have NOT waited until the very last minute for my gifts. Usually, things get pretty down to the wire for me and I wind up finding myself staring at the impossibly long line at the post office praying that I can get things out on-time, then paying an arm and a leg to insure that possibility becomes a reality. But not this year, friends. This year, your girl started shopping a full TWO (2) months in advance. Granted, that first purchase was actually for myself (holiday cards), and I didm't buy anything else for a month, but it COUNTS. I will say this though: I've been behind on my holiday cookie making/ consumption. Only ONE batch of classically-Christmas cookies (oo alliteration) has made it out of the kitchen, and it's already December 21st! I'm ashamed. BUT, I plan to make up for this in the coming weeks. First up: these very lightly spiced (+ everything nice) Christmas cookies!

These are very, very simple cookies meant for when you want a taste, but you don't have a ton of time to fuss. The base is a classic sugar dough recipe, but with a hint of every single spice you have ever associated with Fall/winter.

These cookies are crispy, buttery and a bit little crunchy from the optional topping of Demerara sugar, which I recommend because not only does it add an extra layer of texture,  it also makes your cookies sparkle like they're supposed at Christmas time. And although these cookies do have spice, it's only a hint. I like it because it elevates your sugar cookie, and gives it a little more oomph. These cookies are for sugar cookie purists looking to fray a little from the pack. Go crazy, but not too crazy, know what I mean?

Try some!

 

LIGHTY SPICED + EVERYTHING NICE CHRISTMAS COOKIES

What You'll Need:

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Demerara sugar for topping, optional

 

DIRECTIONS 

Whisk the spices, salt, baking powder, and 3 cups flour in a small bowl. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer, or a wooden spoon), beat the butter and sugar on high speed until well-combined. Next, add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Scrape the sides and the bottom of the bowl if necessary.

Reduce the speed to low, then add about half of the dry ingredients until just combined. Then, add the rest and mix until combined; be careful not to over mix.

Form the dough into two 3/4 inch thick disks (you should see flecks of spices throughout the dough), wrap each disk in plastic wrap, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Let one disk of dough come to room temperature on the counter for 5-10 minutes so that is softens slightly. On a sheet of parchment paper that has been lightly floured, roll out the first disk of dough to 1/4 inch thickness, dusting with flour if it gets too sticky. Make sure to also flour your rolling pin, and cookie cutters. Cut out shapes with your cookie cutters, then transfer to the cookie sheets. Leave about 1 inch of space between each cookie.

Bake cookies about 12-16 minutes, rotating from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking, until the edges are lightly golden brown. If using, immediately sprinkle Demerara sugar liberally on the tops of each cookie, then let them sit for five minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.

TO STORE: Cookies will last for at least a week if kept in an airtight container.

 

 

SOURCE: Adapted from Bon Appetit and Dorie's Cookies