Thursday, January 30, 2014

Best Top Coat for Streak-free Stamping

Back when I started doing nail art, I was thrilled to discover INM Out The Door top coat. With a fast drying top coat I can slap on 2-3 coats of polish plus a layer of topcoat without letting every layer fully dry first. It quickly protects the surface from smudges, but also helps the layers below it dry quicker. And it even helps your manicures last longer without chipping. I wish I'd known about these years ago, because it makes polishing much quicker and easier.

INM Out the Door is one of the more popular top coats along with Seche Vite. Seche Vite is know for having an incredible shine, but is also bad about shrinking (pulling the polish away from the edges of your nail and cuticles). Because of that I chose INM, which is also cheaper and can be found at many drugstores.

Top Coat Test - Bottles

But a recent post by The Nailasaurus had me questioning my loyalties! She compared 5 top coats and INM ended up at the bottom of her list, complaining that it smeared her nail art. Now, I learned early on that a top coat can smear your stamping or other art, and so you need to apply it lightly ('float' it over the nail) and try not to brush over the same areas again and again. Just brush once down each side and once down the center then leave it alone! Once I learned the floating technique I rarely had a smear, but I will admit that even the occasional streak is horrible after you've spent a lot of time on a design! I decided to take her recommendation and picked up her top choice, KBShimmer Clearly On Top.

Top Coat Test, 1

Before using it on my nails, I wanted to do a little test to see if there was a noticeable difference. First I compared INM Out the Door and KBShimmer Clearly on Top. I painted two 'nails' on a nail wheel with with a base color, stamped over the top, then quickly coated one nail in each top coat. The result was identical. There was no streaking on either nail, but I realized that I was probably using my normal floating top coat technique and I needed to get a little rougher.

By the way, the picture above also shows the benefits of testing out a color combination on a nail wheel first! The copper polish looks great over the purple color but was lost on top of the green. That is not something you want to find out after you just painted all 10 of your real nails green!

Top Coat Test, 2

For my 2nd test I grabbed a stamping polish that I know I've seen streak before (Pure Ice "Silver Mercedes") and added another top coat in the running ~ CND Air Dry. That polish was recommended by a friend who used to run a nail art blog, though she was not a fan of the brush in the small bottle & recommended getting the large one you see pictured above.

I coated each stamped nail with top coat again, this time applying it more like I would a normal polish and then brushing the surface over and over again, trying to make it streak. The results were clear! INM did get some minor streaks, KBS came out crisp, and CND smeared all over the place. KBShimmer really did come out "Clearly on Top"!

So will KBS be my new go-to top coat? For nail art, yes. Even though I rarely have a streak with the other two it's not worth the risk! But KBS did have a strong, unpleasant odor (like resin) and is not available in many stores, so for regular polish I would still recommend INM.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bento Goodies, Pt.2

Recently I shared the awesome bento supplies that I got for Christmas, and today I wanted to show you the things that were left on my list that I've picked up since. Click on the pictures if you want to see where anything came from.

Most of the items from my first post were from Amazon or BentoUSA, while most of these are from eBay. Unfortunately that means the links might not be active for long, and since they are usually from China or Japan, you're going to wait 2 weeks or so for them to arrive. I'm still waiting on the last two items, but I've been making tons of bentos with the rest of the supplies, so I wanted to get this post up quick so I could start sharing my creations!

First up I had to snag these two sets of shape cutters. The first set cuts head, hair, and lots of face shapes. One flower is a repeat of the shapes from the other two, but on a smaller scale so you could make a parent & child, or just choose the best size for your project. (My flowers were actually yellow, pink, and green instead of the colors pictured.)

And this set cuts all sorts of shapes ~ circles, stars, bows, arms, etc. The shapes on the yellow flower would make great animal ears, and I saw one sample where they used the giant sun shape on a cheese slice, then cut a circle out of the center to turn it into a lion's mane. These give you a lot of possibilities, and I think the two sets work great together.

I also picked up these flower shaped cutters. They are made of metal and can cut through thicker and harder foods, like a carrot slice. I could see myself using these on normal meals or deserts, and really wish I'd had them when I made Chikuzenni!

After the cutters, I bought some dividers to help me arrange & separate foods in my bento box. The dividers are called "baran", and the most common type is a disposable version of this grass divider, which you can buy in packs of 50-200 for pretty cheap. I really wanted a silicone version that I could wash & re-use though, so I bought the 4 pack below. (I actually found it a few dollars cheaper on Etsy, but it was the only one listed.)

Mini slicone cupcake liners are also a great divider since they can be crammed in any corner and bend to fit the spot. Make sure to check the measurements if you are buying these, because I've seen at least two sizes. These can hold a few items (they will have a top diameter around 7cm/70mm/2.5") while the smaller size might just fit one cherry tomato. Also be sure to check the description of the color ~ I've seen some listings that say they will send a random selection, which might mean you're getting 12 of the same color! This is one of the things that hasn't arrived yet, so hopefully I chose wisely!

The last item that is also set to arrive soon is a 2nd bento box. I love the red and black color and figure this one would even be safe for my husband to use! I am a little worried about the color though, because when I see this brand on other sites they have a 'pink' box and not a 'red' one listed. No one here is going to want to use a pink box, so I'm anxiously waiting to see which it will be.

Now that all of the introductions are out of the way I can't wait to post some of the lunches I've made!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Femme Fatale - Nightsong Grotto

I have been looking forever for a nice tinted polish filled with glitter. Claire's Candy Shop got me hooked, even though I'm not much of a 'pink' girl. Polishes like that are so pretty I don't feel like a slacker for not adding nail art! The polish didn't even have to be quite as glitter packed as Claire's, but did need to have various sizes and colors mixed together. I found some pretty polishes along the way, but the colors never seemed to be quite right. (Like this, or this.) Then, just before Christmas, I discovered Femme Fatale! After some deliberations I added Nightsong Grotto to my list. I'm also in love with Wickerman Embers, Suspended Starlight, and several others. The names are as pretty as the polish! Femme Fatale - Nightsong Grotto I used about 2 coats with some extra dabbing to fill in any empty spots, then 2 layers of topcoat to make things smooth. The colors were so deep and the polish looked like fused glass. It's a gorgeous polish!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tapioca Noodles?

If you've ever had Pad Thai or Pho, you know how tasty rice noodles are. Nice and chewy, they are my favorite in any size, so I always try to keep some on hand. Unfortunately our grocery store only carries one pricey brand of the wide noodles, so I stock up on those when we visit the Asian market. Earlier this year we made one of our too-infrequent trips to the Asian market, but I couldn't find my beloved noodles. After searching the shelves again and again I could only locate one opened bag of the wide noodles and one random bag of medium width. I foolishly thought one of the workers could help since I had a bag in hand already, but she still had no clue what I was asking about! Finally I just grabbed a few bags of smallish ones and figured I'd try again next time. Tapioca Noodles, 1 When I got home I realized I had accidentally grabbed three bags of Tapioca noodles! My only experience with tapioca noodles was back in 2006 when I couldn't resist trying the crazy crinkly things below. (They were disgusting, but that might have been my fault!) Tapioca Noodles - dry I wasn't optimistic, but I figured they deserved another try! The cooking directions were odd; something like, 'Soak in hot water for 20 minutes, drain, boil for 20 minutes, let sit in the pot of water for 15 minutes'. When they were finished I was left with a fat, white noodle, similar in size to udon, but chewier. Not bad! Tapioca Noodles, 2 I used the black pepper sauce from a new recipe and tossed the noodles with sauteed onion, shredded savoy cabbage, and some shredded, cooked chicken. It ended up so good that I made these Black Pepper Noodles for lunch again and again until I'd finally used up all three bags! Tapioca Noodles, 3 Soon I'd like to try the recipe again with udon, since that is a much more accessible and familiar noodle. Hopefully the result will taste just as good and the recipe will be ready to share. I probably won't pick up another pack of tapioca noodles on purpose again (unless the recipe calls for it), but it was a tasty experiment!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bento Goodies

I had a lot of bento stuff on my Christmas list this year and got some fun new supplies!

I did a bit of comparison shopping to start out with so that I could include a link for each item at the cheapest price. Some things were cheaper on eBay, some on Amazon, and I also found a lot of great deals on a new favorite, BentoUSA! They have a flat rate $6 shipping, so you can keep the prices low if you are ordering 5+ items, but for singular items you are probably better off checking the first two. (For that reason I’ll mostly be sharing Amazon links here, unless something is unavailable or dramatically pricier. Click the pics below for shopping links.) There are probably lots of other great bento supply stores out there, but I’m new at this!

Here is my first bento box (Japanese lunch box), featuring a cute bear named Rilakkuma & his friends. I figured this was a good one for either me or Orson to use, but now I’m feeling a little possessive! The box can be used with one or two trays and even includes chopsticks.

I’ve seen a lot of bento blogs where the moms seem to just have a plethora of cookie cutters and decorative toothpicks. (Halloween bento? Cut the sandwich in a pumpkin shape, spear something with bat toothpicks and call it a day!) They're not bad, but I’d rather be a little creative & not spend a fortune! With a few circles you can create a person, a bear, a frog, a snowman, etc. Add in some other basic shapes and the possibilities are endless! I tried to keep this in mind and pick supplies that could be used in a variety of ways.

I love these tiny alphabet cutters! They can cut things like sliced cheese, lunch meat, or thinly sliced vegetables to add a cute message to the meal.

I did get a few decorative picks ~ tiny animals and hats. They can be used to hold things together in the box, to eat with (like chunks of fruit), or just added for cuteness!

When Orson heard the hats were for food he laughed and laughed! Yet when I put some on his dinosaur shaped nuggets, he yanked them off in disgust. I don’t know what to do with this kid.

These are tiny cups for sauce or yogurt, etc. Orson is a ketchup fiend!

Justin’s mom snuck this dinosaur shaped sandwich cutter into my stocking...

Along with a car shaped egg mold! For this you take a hard boiled egg, peel it, and put it in the mold while it is still warm. Let it cool in the fridge and the egg will keep the shape.

I also have a heart and star set from long ago ~

And you might remember the face punches I bought a while back that can be used with sheets of nori (sushi wrappers) for quick faces ~

After Christmas I couldn’t resist picking up the last few left on my list. They are so cheap! I bought some shape cutters and dividers to help me arrange things in the box. I also grabbed one more box that is so neutral even my husband could use it. Now I just need to start using this stuff!

Monday, January 13, 2014


7 months ago I missed the bottom step of our staircase, tumbled onto the carpet, and broke my big toe. For a while I wasn’t sure if it was broken, and assumed they would just tape my toes together if it was, so it took me a few months to check in with a doctor. X-rays confirmed the break, they did tape my toes together, and she said to follow up with an orthopedic doctor. But she didn’t say *when* to do that, so it was another few months before I looked up a specialist and was given a giant boot to wear until it is fully healed. Fun times!

The boot

So when New Year’s rolled around this year, let’s just say losing weight was not at the top of my resolution list!! (Btw, I wear size 10, so the shoe on the left is not a tiny one!) I did have a few blog goals floating around in my head though...

1) Manicures - I have barely painted my nails since Pandora was born (about a month before the toe break!). Doing so much nail art the last few years has left me incapable of casually slapping on some color, which is so sad! Hopefully I can get back to doing a little of both.

Berry College Football NailsFair Foods ManicureRainbow Brite Sprite NailsPeppermint Nails

2) Finalizing recipes - I have so many recipes lingering in the limbo of my “working on” folder. Some just need a picture, some need a final tweak, but whatever is left to do I just need to finish them up so I can finally share them! I have neglected My Recipe Book for far too long.

Ginger Chicken with PeanutsBaked Spaghetti Casserole, 2Miso Ramen, 1French Dip Crescents

3) Bentos - I got so many fun supplies for Christmas to help me make cute lunches! I can’t wait to share them all with you in the next post. Unfortunately Orson tends to be a grump when it comes to silly foods, so I might just have to make them for myself until he snaps out of it!

Hot Dog Octopus

Any other resolution makers out there? I feel like I'm constantly working through to-do lists and trying to figure out what is top priority, but January always gives me a nice nudge to look at the areas I want to improve.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"Tiffany", "It's My Year" Manicure

While searching for nail polishes with my name I came across Zoya's "Tiffany" and quickly added it to my wishlist. My husband bought me the polish for Christmas and I finally motivated myself to paint my nails (it's been a while!).

From the pictures online I was hoping for a red polish with a orange color shift, but it's really more of an earthy orange with a pink shift. I was a little disappointed in the color, but the only orange I have currently is very bright, so I'll keep this one for now.

"Tiffany", "It's My Year" Manicure

I also worried the polish was a little too similar to one I already owned called "It's My Year" from OPI. I was remembering it as pink with a golden shimmer, but it really is more of a purple. The shimmer is similar though, so I painted all of my nails with "Tiffany" and then layered a few coats of "It's My Year" on the ring finger and thumb. (It is pretty sheer, so the orange tint still shows through) The names are perfect for a new year's manicure!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Christmas Snowglobes

Now that the gifts have been given, I can share the Christmas snowglobes the kids and I made!

First Pandora helped out by emptying out lots of baby food jars for us. I removed the labels and washed them, cleaning off any stickiness with Goo Gone. I got glitter and sparkly silver & green leaf picks at the craft store, but had trouble finding any tiny figurines to use (the jars are only about 2 inches wide). I grabbed a pack of plastic babies for the aunts ~ the Harvey family has developed an odd Christmas tradition of plastic baby pranks ~ and finally found some cute penguin buttons that would work for the grandparents.

Orson helped me hot glue the penguins on to some lovely flowers that promptly dyed the water bright red! I removed them and replaced them with some silver leaves instead, piling up some hot glue so the penguins could sit a little higher up too. Orson quickly got kicked out of the kitchen for trying to grab the glue-gun and repeatedly hopping over the cord.

Snowglobes, 1

I cut some of the silver leaves down and added wings to the babies to disguise them as Christmas angels. They were too small to sit at the very bottom of the snowglobes so I propped them up higher with leaves and berries. I covered any bare spot on the bottom with glue and had Orson sprinkle glitter over it to look like snow (it wasn't really visible in the end).

Snowglobes, 2

Then he helped me add in lots of glitter along with some clear Elmer's glue to slow its fall. Snowstorm!

Snowglobes, 3

Here are some of the finished snowglobes! We made 7 all together ~ 3 for granparents, 3 for aunts, and one to keep. They turned out really cute, but Orson (3) was a little too young to help as much as I'd hoped.

Snowglobes, 4