Available Balance
Review: Topshop Lipstick in Fawn Shade
March 15, 2017
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This is another edition of lipstick review! As I’ve mentioned in my last post, I have accumulated a few lipsticks, especially last year. But for this review, I will write about something that I’ve had ages ago!

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In general, I prefer coral/peach tones for my lipstick – I think it is a pretty safe color and matches my skin tone. But there are times I also wanted to achieve a “natural look” or tone it down on the lip department when sporting heavy eye makeup so having nude lipstick is a must for me.

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I bought this from Topshop years ago – I can’t remember exactly when! Even if I use it for a lot of things, it is still pretty full because I often forget to retouch my lip color or have another shade in my travel purse in my handbag. Here is a photo with a layer of lipstick applied on my lips.

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As you can see, it is not that pigmented. It does a decent amount of coverage especially because my lips are pigmented, too.
It is a cheap lipstick and the price is comparable to drugstore brand lippies. It is quite drying so I have to make sure to moisturize my lips before application. Doesn’t have any staying whatsoever and it is just a “normal” lipstick.
Despite that, I love the fact that this is layerable. I love using this lipstick when I want to do gradient lip with Korean lip tints. Or, to “tone down” a heavy lipstick color. And of course, I can wear it on its own if I want to have nude lips – the possibilities with this is endless!
It is not a perfect product and I don’t expect it to be given the price I paid for it. I am happy what it can do for me and hope to use it until the last swipe on my lips!

Face Mask Review: Etude House Collagen
March 7, 2017
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Another article, another product review for everybody! Today, I am going to review another skincare staple I always need to have inside my bathroom cabinet – face sheet masks!

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I lost count how many brands and variants I have tried in the past – especially with the HUGE selection in just Korean skincare brands. But I just love the way it hydrates my skin – you can tell the difference of the skin quality the next day if you applied a face sheet mask or not!
Today, I am writing about Etude House’s Collagen face sheet mask. I bought it as part of my Jolse haul sometime last year. And since I don’t use face sheet masks daily (maybe every other week or so), I still have one sheet left that I used last weekend.
Similar to other face sheet masks from Etude House from the same line, I found the packet smaller in comparison to other sheet masks. I personally love the compact design of the packet, too. It added a bit of appeal (to me) that it is smaller in comparison to other sheet masks.
Anyway, I opened the packet and there was a fully soaked mask sheet inside. It is good for single use, too. The sheet is drenched with the liquid but there are not many leftovers inside the pack. I am not too fussy about it as I actually hate having to throw the precious mask sheet liquid, sigh.
Similar to other Korean face sheet masks, Etude House’s Collagen mask sheet was very subtly scented. It has a slightly milky consistency to it but not as thick as the Coenzyme Q10 variant.
I placed it on my face and found the mask sheet slightly small to fit my face. I had a bit of trouble trying to align the holes for the eyes and nose with mine so it took some time to readjust so I can be comfortable with it.
As I placed the face mask sheet, there was no stinging sensation at all. Just the same refreshing feeling you get when you just placed a mask sheet on your face, yay!
I let the product stay on my face for about 30 minutes (I always do it when masking) and let the remaining product dry on my skin. It was slightly sticky to touch but not irritatingly so. As the time went on, the sticky feeling decreases, too. So when it was time to sleep, it wasn’t sticky at all! Mind you that it was a very cold evening in Ireland these days so it might be a factor why it wasn’t sticky for me, too.
Overall, I am happy with the product. I can’t attest to the claims that the Collagen variant of Etude House’s face mask sheet really firms the skin but I definitely loved how supple my face looked the day after! I did not develop any rashes or itchiness as well so it is another bonus for me.

NYX Soft Cream Matte Lipstick (Copenhagen)
March 2, 2017
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Over the past couple of weeks, I have increased my lipstick/lip tint stash. It all started when I discovered the Korean lip tint craze (I know, I am super late with all these things) and fell in love with the concept of having tainted lips without reapplying after every meal or drink. And because of that, I have been on the lookout for super pigmented lip stains – especially the darker hues that I used to shy away from in the past. I guess the concept of having temporary lip tattoo-stained on my lips for at least a day without the risk of ending up on my teeth was the ultimate reason for my growing lipstick fascination!
I wanted to buy MAC’s lip stains but have seen mixed reviews about it. I mean, I do splurge (sometimes) on cosmetics but the reviews lead me to give drugstore brands a try before spending twice the amount on a single tube of MAC lip tint. Add up the fact the product from MAC I was eyeing did not go on sale last Christmas, so I guess that’s a sign not to spend too much money, no?

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That lead me to buy NYX Soft Matte Cream lipstick. I was on the lookout for a nice semi-vampire look and this dark, bloody, berry color called Copenhagen did the trick for me! Not sure why, but last autumn really gave me that vibe to go for really dark and vampy shades. Maybe I was trying to go back to my college goth looks before I become too old for it?
The lipstick is easy to apply and glides nicely on my lips. It is a bit tricky to even it out but I guess that’s the risk of buying highly pigmented colors like this.

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I love the deep red color on my lips – I think it suits my skin tone nicely. It is just a shame that it doesn’t completely dry out on my lips. It transfers to anything my lips touches even if I have put it on after half a day outside the chilly Irish weather!
I also love the lasting stain it leaves my lips. It does fade away after eating or drinking but not the same as other lipsticks that leave your lips bare after one meal or drink. It fades gradually (after all, it is not smudge-proof) but I feel that no re-application is needed – not unless you are obsessed with your lip color.
Overall, I find this good value for money – I think it was under €10 for this tube. It was a good call not to splurge on a MAC lip stain especially since it will cost me twice for what I paid for this. Not to mention I might not be able to commit to the shade for a long time. Too bad that it wasn’t included in the promotion when I bought it from our local drugstore, though!

Stoplock Steering Wheel Lock shopping experience from Amazon seller (Street Rhino)
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Let us take a break from my usual product review article for this one. It is still a review but this one is a seller review from my recent Amazon buying experience.
I often buy from Amazon. I find they have good deals and there are times when it is a lot cheaper to buy from them in comparison to local shops here in Ireland. Especially if I am able to reach the “free shipping” option!
So we are recently trying to buy some car accessories one-by-one. And my husband’s first priority was the steering wheel lock. He chose Stoplock Steering Wheel Lock for this. We compared prices and checked the deals available here and we found that this seller from Amazon (Street Rhino) sells it for a competitive price. Shipping is not free but even if we take that into consideration, it still ends up about 20€ cheaper! Not only that, but the item available here is a “generic” Stoplock Steering Wheel Lock whereas the one we bought from Street Rhino was specially made for the brand and make of our car!
We ordered online and I received dispatch information after a couple of days. We arranged to use a third party shipping facility from UK to Ireland called Parcel Motel because it is more cost-effective (why else, right?).

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We received the goods after a week but we were quite disappointed to discover it was broken! My husband initially thought it was just a small crack but then after closer inspection, he realized that the plastic completely fell apart!
I took some photos and sent it to the seller – who responded within the same day. He was extremely apologetic and promised to dispatch a replacement for the faulty item. I responded asking whether I need to return the broken item and how to deal with the shipping cost (since we paid for shipping the first time and paying again would defeat the purpose of trying to save money). And I was so pleasantly surprised when he told me to send the receipt over for the shipping costs and he would refund it to me as an act of good will! Not only that! He also told me that I need not return the faulty product! WOW, that is brilliant customer service for sure!
I didn’t wait too long for the refund to occur – I received notification the next day that I got money on my Amazon account. I didn’t receive any dispatch notification for the replacement (unlike for the first item) item but was surprised to receive it 3 days after my correspondence with Street Rhino!
Overall, I am so pleased with my dealings with them, I wouldn’t think twice if I have to buy a few more car accessory in the future from them. I hope that I don’t encounter any more issues with a faulty product but it is reassuring to know that they have superb customer service if I need to count on it.

Yesstyle shopping experience: Yesstyle review and hauls!
February 22, 2017
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This is another haul but this time, it is a new online seller I recently tried out called Yesstyle. I have been stalking this website for a while now but was unsure what to buy. They have a lot of cute items to choose from – it is actually hard to take a pick. But from the reviews, the item’s quality is something sort of a hit-and-miss.
Of course, I knew the risk of buying online from these “cheap” Asian sellers. It actually reminded me a lot of street vendors in Asia where you can buy for a fraction of the price you pay for in department stores but the risk is that the quality is never that great.
Anyway, I received a promotional email about additional discounts a couple of weeks ago and since I am drooling over Aquazzura’s laced up flats (but don’t have enough money anymore after splurging on other “stuff”) – I decided I’d buy dupes instead!
This is actually the second order from Yesstyle but it arrived first. The reason is that on my first order, a couple of items are not readily available in their warehouse so they are still waiting for the stock. But for this order, all the items were in their warehouse so it was shipped the next day!
I am pleased with the shipping time, too. I think it only took 2 weeks after I received the shipping notification and I received the goodies in Ireland.

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Ok, so when I opened the box, here’s what I saw. Quite pleased everything is carefully wrapped.
I bought a couple of items for this haul but just enough to reach the free standard shipping (€34).

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So, this is the main reason why I ended up with my second order with Yesstyle even if I have yet to receive the first – the laced up flats!

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It took me a while to decide which pair to buy because I wasn’t sure whether to order a size up or not. But my size (size 38) was on sale (€14.34) so I took the risk and glad it fits! Whew!

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It felt comfy and cute worn. I just hated the strong chemical smell coming out from the shoe – so I hope it goes away after airing it out!

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The next one is this pair of white sneakers. I had to order this one size up (size 39) and glad I did because this one fits perfectly.

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I am not too thrilled with the quality but the sneakers are nicely done (no loose threads, glued nicely). I think this will be a cute tandem with denim shorts on summer! And for the price I paid (€9.96) – not bad eh? And, these did not smell as much as the flats so that’s another “plus”.

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The next item is this cosmetic bag. I checked stores over here and it is so hard to find something the right size (or right price). I love the vibrant color and thought it was well-done, too! The price is also lovely (€3.56) which is still slightly cheaper compared here!

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The next item is “boy shorts”. For those not familiar with it, it is a short undergarment that I wear when wearing dresses or skirts. You know, I am not that confident to have a “Marilyn moment” so better have one of these handy! And not sure, but I haven’t found anything similar over here. And the one I am using started to loosen up so I had to find a replacement for it! I haven’t used it yet but opened the packet. The material was thinner than expected but what can you expect if you paid €2.65, right?

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The last item was a goodie bag. It has 20 pieces inside the packet and the design was sooo cute! I bought it since I love making homemade goodies, especially for Christmas. And it is only €3.56!
So, there you have it – MY FIRST YESSTYLE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE! Overall, I am quite pleased. The boy shorts and the white sneakers were sort of “meh” but with the amount of money I paid for it, what can you expect, right? Regarding shipping, I think the 2-week timeframe is quick considering that I always feel that if the items ships from China, it takes AT LEAST a month to arrive.

Another haul post! Unboxing The Saem, Skinfood, and Apieu!
February 20, 2017
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It’s been a while since I published any unboxing posts. Not that I didn’t do any online shopping over the past months! I wish I didn’t but I did and well, just been quite busy so missed to blog about those.
Anyway, since I have a bit of time on my hands to post, I recently received my order from Jolse. As you know, Jolse is one of my go-to online shops for any Korean skincare/makeup needs. I find the price comparable to another shop I go to (RoseRoseShop) minus the hassle of trying to compute the shipping fee. I also like the concept of having a few cents of account credit I receive with each order that I can use on future orders so long as I reach a minimum order of $20 (which is super easy to reach anyway).
Similar to my previous orders, this arrived within 2-2.5 weeks of shipping. This is a huge plus considering this is a standard post and without any tracking number, too.
I opened the box and as always, Jolse carefully wraps each item with thick amounts of bubble wrap. And oh, you can see the freebies I get, too!

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Ok, so here are the items I ordered from Jolse. I ordered Skinfood Mint Foot Peeling socks, The Saem Eco Velvet Lip Mousse, and Apieu Banana and Honey Sheet Mask.

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Let me tell you a side story about this recent Jolse haul. So, I initially only wanted to buy the Skinfood Foot Peeling mask to restock. But then, I am at the matte/velvet lipstick addiction phase, LOL! So, when I got the chance and saw the price is OK/comparable to drugstore brands over here – I bought this one from The Saem. HAHA! And well, the sheet mask, I bought since I need just a few more dollars to make the minimum $20 spend so I can use my store credit (I got $3 at the time), so yeah, it’s like I used my credit to pay for the masks! Not bad, right?
I would’ve bought a couple more (maybe a toner) if I wasn’t trying to stop and tell myself “Hey, you have an upcoming trip to Korea in April. You can buy it from there and maybe a lot cheaper, too!” But then, as a shopaholic, it is so hard to resist when things are already inside my grocery cart! Eek!
Ok, enough of the random ramblings. Here is another photo but this time, it is just showing my freebies I got from this purchase.

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I have tons of these by now and trying to destash some. I mean, I don’t slather my face with these creams not to mention it is still winter here so I am still stuck with my Jojoba/Olive oil face oil DIY concoction so I rarely use these creams these days. But, I hope to use these samples soon and hopefully, have the time to blog about my first impression, too!

Super yummy and easy lasagna recipe
February 17, 2017
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Pasta is my ultimate comfort dish. And now that we are at the end of the cold winter evenings (I hope!), the nights are double the cold temperature so a nice hearty dish seems necessary.
When it comes to ultimate pasta dishes, lasagna comes to mind almost immediately. Of course, I have simple spaghetti recipes that I can go to and cook for half an hour but everybody will agree with me that a tasty lasagna is one of the best pasta dishes in the world, right?

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Since I felt like it’s been a while since we had lasagna at home, I cooked it last weekend. It was a hit! My husband and son loved it and if not only for the HUGE fridge space it will take up – I will more likely cook it more often, too.
So in case you want to learn how to make a really simple lasagna or just craving for it, here is the recipe I used. I am not sure how authentic it is, though. Especially the bechamel sauce. But I can guarantee that it tastes good!

Recipe:

Bechamel sauce:
2 cups fresh milk (I used full fat for this)
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
50 g butter
1 tbsp plain flour

lasagna sheets (I used the dry lasagna sheets for this)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 kg beef mince
2 sprigs thyme
1/4 tsp rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 medium carrots, chopped
250g mushrooms, chopped
250 g ricotta
1 leek, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 big bottle (about 400ml) of tomato passata
salt and pepper to taste
400g grated mozzarella cheese

Steps:
1. In a small saucepan, place all the ingredients for the Bechamel sauce.
2. Place over medium-high heat and stir consistently.
3. Wait for the sauce to get warm and reduce the heat to medium to avoid burning. Continue to stir.
4. Once the bechamel sauce starts to thicken (or starts to reach boiling point), remove from heat and set aside.
5. Get another pan and pour the olive oil in.
6. Saute the garlic until golden brown. Add the chopped leeks and mix.
7. Add the minced meat and cook thoroughly. Make sure to keep mixing to avoid cooking in clumps.
8. Add the bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme sprig. Mix well.
9. When the meat is thoroughly cooked, add the carrots and mushrooms.
10. Stir in the tomato passata shortly after and season with salt and pepper.
11. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.
12. Preheat the oven to 175C.
13. Get a pyrex and place lasagna sheets. Put enough lasagna filling on it. Scatter spoonfuls of ricotta cheese and spread around the area of the tray. Add another layer of lasagna sheets on top.
14. Put another layer of lasagna filling and this time, put a layer of the bechamel sauce. Add another layer of lasagna sheets on top.
15. Add another layer of lasagna filling (if you can). Use the remaining bechamel, ricotta and spread evenly with grated mozzarella cheese.
16. Cover the lid with aluminum foil and bake for about 40-45 minutes.
17. After baking for 40-45 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes (to toast the upper part).
18. Serve and enjoy!

Bobbi Brown Shimmering Brick (coral) review
February 17, 2017
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It’s been a while since my last blog post! I know, I have been quite busy. But anyways, here I am, back on this side of the planet!
Now that I am back, I am here for yet another product review! You know how much I love trying various products and share the outcome with anybody here who reads my entries, LOL!

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Anyway, my product review is another makeup product from Bobbi Brown – the shimmering brick in Coral!
Bobbi Brown is one of my favorite makeup brands. As I mentioned, if only I can regularly buy from them, I would. But there are times when it is not practical to do so I buy cheaper alternatives like drugstore brand cosmetics or Korean makeup brands!
I bought it here as a non-sale item and it is quite pricey. But so far, I feel that it is one of the best makeup products I have in my possession!

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I know a lot of makeup gurus out there use this as a highlighter to enhance the distinct areas in your face like cheekbones but for my personal use, I use it as a blusher. I have moderately fair skin and I love the hint of color it gives my complexion without piling too much pigment on my cheeks!
Because it is a highlighter, it also has a slight sparkle. And that’s what I love about Bobbi Brown’s shimmering brick because unlike other highlighters I see from beauty blogs, this version from Bobbi Brown is very subtle. It gives the illusion, especially when I use it as a blusher, that the glow is natural!
Because I don’t use too much of it, I think this will last me a while. So, if you are looking for a natural-looking makeup product to color your cheeks and maybe, have the same moderately fair skin as I do, I think it is worth trying to use Bobbi Brown’s shimmering brick in Coral, too!

Cookie time! M&S Salted Egg and Belgian Milk Chocolate Cookie review
January 5, 2017
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M&S cookies are one of my guilty pleasures when snacking. I generally follow a sort of “healthy” lifestyle but let’s admit, there are times we want to taste something different, right?
Last Christmas season, M&S released their seasonal cookie range. I don’t visit M&S stores very often since they are a bit pricey in comparison to Tesco so I am not sure whether this flavor is indeed a limited edition. But I decided to try it out even if it was not on sale.
My husband loves salted caramel chocolate. So when I saw M&S had these American Style Giant salted caramel cookies with Belgian milk chocolate, I knew I had to try it!
Let’s start by talking about the packaging. The packaging is really good and high-quality. In particular, I love that it is made from a resealable foil that helps to keep the leftovers fresh for longer. Especially since these are bigger cookies (and it is better not to eat one piece in one sitting, if you can resist it), it is inevitable that you will just eat a chunk from one piece.
I also appreciate that M&S stays true to their word – these are really big cookies! I think one piece is almost the same size as my palm! And just like the other M&S cookie variants I tried in the past, the toppings were generous! Every bite has a lot of salted caramel pieces and Belgian chocolate chunks, too!
However, I find the salted caramel aspect a bit lacking. The caramel pieces were predominantly sweet so I guess I was trying to find a saltier taste to balance the sweetness coming from the Belgian milk chocolates.
Overall, I am really pleased buying these cookies. It was so hard to resist not to eat one piece in one sitting since they are so good and chewy! If you can resist, I find that these cookies will stay fresh (as if you just opened it!) so long as you reseal properly for about 2 weeks after opening.

Quick and Easy Salted Egg Calamari Recipe
January 4, 2017
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Salted egg is everywhere – literally! By now, most of you more likely have heard of the salted egg phenomenon taking over Asia. If you haven’t then you should Google salted egg potato chips to get an idea what I am talking about!
I must admit I have fallen prey to this latest food craze. In fact, I wrote a famous salted egg snack review here in LiteracyBase and you may read about it by clicking over here.
Salted egg is a common delicacy in the Philippines. We usually enjoy it with some chopped fresh tomatoes and eaten with steaming white rice as a viand. However, with the salted egg food craze sweeping the globe, there are a lot of other ways to eat and enjoy salted egg these days!
The most significant awareness I had about the various ways to eat salted egg was when I was living in Singapore. A friend took me to a restaurant specializing in crab dishes and there was an item on the menu for salted egg crab. Prior this meal, I tasted chili crabs in Singapore and loved it. But that evening was the first for me to read about salted egg crabs! I was so intrigued by the dish – I gave it a shot, of course!
The verdict? I loved it! The salted egg sauce was super creamy and tasty. I think it added a certain depth of flavor to the dish. I thought that it will be too weird to taste salted egg together with seafood but it actually made sense. And since tasting it, I have heard of other variants such as salted egg chips, salted egg fried chicken, or salted egg pasta! All of which, I haven’t tried yet!
So for this recipe, I decided to try making the salted egg sauce but use it with calamari. Crabs are quite pricey over here so if I wanted to enjoy seafood, I tend to use other frozen options such as prawns or calamari. It’s been a while since I cooked using calamari so I decided to use it for this dish.

Recipe:

1 kg frozen calamari, completely thawed
4 salted egg yolks, steamed
a handful of curry leaves
onion, chopped
salt to taste
25 g butter
chilli (optional)

Steps:
Place butter in a pan. Put the pan over medium-high heat and let the butter melt completely. Make sure not to get impatient and raise the heat to high – it will burn the butter!
When the butter is hot, saute the onion. Toss in the pan and cook until translucent. If using chilies for this dish, you may add it in now.
Add the calamari pieces and half-cook for about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Once all the calamari pieces were half-cooked, add the steamed salted egg yolks. Crush the yolks using a fork and thoroughly mix with the butter to have a creamy sauce consistency.
Add the curry leaves and stir. Add the calamari pieces and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
Remove from heat and set aside.
Best served with hot rice!