Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Day Shopping Deals!

In honor of Leap Day {not that Leap Day has much to do with least, I don't think it does}, several retailers are offering one-day-only discounts online.  Thank goodness Banana Republic and Charlotte Russe did a "29% off" deal ~ no one else seemed to get the sticking-with-a-theme-is-cute memo!

All of these deals are online only and today only unless otherwise noted.

Banana Republic
29% off full-price items ~ use code BRLEAPYEAR at checkout

Barnes & Noble
25% off one item ~ use code LLDVWLK2KZVLA at checkout

$20 off you purchase {first purchase only} ~ use code LEAP20 at checkout

Charlotte Russe
29% off any one item {sale items excluded} ~ use code LEAP29 at checkout

Children's Place
Free Shipping on every order; 25% off Spring Dressy {get those Easter outfits!} ~ no code necessary

$25 off $75 or $50 off $150 through 3/4/12 ~ use code 1120 at checkout

15% off your purchase {some exclusions apply} ~ use code GAPGIFT at checkout

GW Little
20% off a purchase of $85 or more ~ use code LEAPSTER at checkout
12% off a purchase of $75 or more through 3/5/12 ~ use code XTRADAY at checkout

Old Navy
15% off your purchase {excludes Everyday Steals and Jeans} ~ use code ONSPRING at checkout

25% off sitewide ~ no code necessary

Free shipping on orders over $29 ~ use code LEAPYEAR at checkout

Have fun saving!


Monday, February 27, 2012

Happy National Strawberry Day!

I recently discovered that I am no longer allergic to strawberries; after a 20+-year strawberry hiatus, what's the best way to reacquaint myself with this sweet and pretty seeds-on-the-outside fruit?  Of course there are chocolate-dipped, there are shortcakes, there are strawberries-and-cream, and there's good ol' fashioned straight-out-of-the-bowl.

But perhaps the most fun way to jump back into the strawberry pool, on National Strawberry Day of all days, is to cut myself a slice of Paula Deen's Simply Delicious Strawberry Cake {it currently has a 5-star rating on Food Network's website}.  The best news?  It's starts with a cake mix, which makes the process that much {wait for it...} sweeter.

{P.S. ~ it's not only National Strawberry Day, it's also National Kahlua Day.  May I recommend our own homemade "ultimate" mudslide?}

Paula Deen's Simply Delicious Strawberry Cake

Ingredients ~ Cake
1    {18.25 ounce} box white cake mix
1    {3 ounce} box strawberry-flavored instant gelatin
1    {15-ounce} package frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed and pureed
4     large eggs
1/2  cup vegetable oil
1/4  cup water

Ingredients ~ Frosting
1/4  cup butter, softened
1     {8 ounce} package cream cheese, softened
1     {10 ounce} package frozen strawberries in syrup, thawed and pureed
1/2   teaspoon strawberry extract
7      cups confectioners sugar
        freshly sliced strawberries for garnish {optional}

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease 2 {9-inch} round cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine cake mix and gelatin.  Add pureed strawberries, eggs, oil, and water; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Pour into prepared pans, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in pans for 10 minutes.  Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

For the frosting:  In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.  Beat in 1/4 cup of the strawberry puree and the vanilla extract.  {The rest of the puree is leftover, but can be used in smoothies or on ice cream ~ Paula's tip!}.  Gradually add confectioners' sugar, beating until smooth.  

Spread frosting in between layers and on top and sides of cake.  Garnish with sliced fresh strawberries, if desired.

Paula's post on Food Network's website can be found here.


{photo credit:}

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Beauty Department

Last spring, Lauren Conrad {of The Hills fame, but also a fashion designer in her own right} and a few pals launched the website The Beauty Department, a site that offers frequent hair, makeup, skincare and sometimes fashion tips.  I had heard about the site months ago, but I just finally got around to checking it out ~ I didn't even realize what I'd been missing!

The Beauty Department often posts step-by-step tutorials to guide you to beauty perfection, whether the task be somewhat simple {like tackling a salon-perfect blow dry at home} or a bit more complex {like some fun and fancy nail art}.

I was so excited to see this post detailing the way to get a great blow-out.  I have a lot of hair {usually it's almost down to my waist} and I can never get that "salon" blowout on my own.  I usually end up throwing my hair up in a messy bun because it's just easier than struggling with the blow dryer and brush, and not even winding up with the results I want.  I'm hoping these instructions can help me solve my basic blowout problems once and for all!

Click here for the blowout basics instructions.

I love a pretty red lip ~ it's a style that hit the mainstream hard a few years ago {Christina Aguilera's Candyman video helped!} and it seems like it's here to stay.  Red lips, when done correctly, are downright striking ~ ladylike and sexy at the same time.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways to mess it up ~ picking the right red, first of all;  making sure the color stays on your lips and doesn't make it's way onto your face, for another example.

Click here for the start-to-finish instructions on how to get a great red lip that will stay put.

"Fashion Friday" posts on The Beauty Department usually show a particular type of dress or clothing style {shown here ~ basic A-line frocks}, and give you a few examples of which hair styles work best with it, and more importantly, why.  It might sound silly, but when you want to look perfect from head-to-toe {especially for formal events like weddings or an important first date}, all the details count!

Click here for the complete post {including illustrated examples of hairstyles to pair with A-line dresses}.

Perhaps my favorite posts that I've happened upon at The Beauty Department are the DIY, super adorable manicure tips!  Check out the two examples below, and click the links for instructions on adding hearts to your mani's {hint: it involves toothpicks, and it does not involve freehanding hearts} and for nautical nails {I cannot wait for summer to try these out!}.

Have fun beautifying, lovelies!


{photo credit:  all courtesy of}

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's Girl Scout Cookie Time! {But Maybe Not What You're Thinking...}

I always wanted to be a Girl Scout.  I think really I just always wanted to wear that stylin' sash, decked out with achievement patches.  I probably wouldn't have enjoyed actually having to earn the patches ~ it seems like an awful lot of work.  But what would have made all that hard work worth it was the cookies...oh, the cookies!

Lucky for all of us {and unfortunately for all of our thighs}, you don't have to be a Girl Scout to enjoy Girl Scout cookies.  But, as I've just discovered, you also don't have to eat Girl Scout cookies to enjoy Girl Scout cookies.  Wait...what?

Thanks to Bonne Bell and the Lip Smacker crew, you can now enjoy the scent and flavor of your favorite GS cookies on your lips, without seeing the aftereffects on your hips.  Several flavors are available individually for a couple bucks a piece, or you can snag this 8-piece "Party Pack" for $9.95 ~ two tubes each of Thin Mint, Coconut Caramel Stripes {aka Samoas, aka Caramel Delites}, and Trefoils; and one tube each Peanut Butter and Chocolate Peanut Butter.

Click here to order yourself up some sweet lip balms, or see if your local Lip Smacker-carrier stocks them. 

I'll take two boxes tubes of Thin Mint, please!


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Book Club: Sisterhood Everlasting {Review}

I finished reading Sisterhood Everlasting about a week and a half ago, but I had to reflect on it before writing this review.  Ann Brashares' lastest offering is the fifth {and presumably final} novel in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.  If you've read the other books, or seen the movies, you're familiar with the characters ~ outspoken and ambitious Carmen, who wishes to be an actress; shy, beautiful Lena, the artist; free-spirited, athletic Bridget {or Bee}; and quiet, quirky Tibby, an aspiring filmmaker.  The girls have been best friends literally since birth, and the books chronicle four consecutive summers in their teens as they come of age.

The first four books in the series focus on the friends as teenagers, and as such, are geared towards a younger audience {although I read them in my twenties}.  Sisterhood Everlasting takes place ten years later, as the girls are scattered across the globe, nearing their 30th birthdays.  The overall tone of this book is heavier than the previous installments, as they deal with more "adult" issues.

I spent a large portion of the week or so that it took me to read Sisterhood unhappy with the direction that Brashares chose to take the story.  The book starts out pleasantly enough ~ just like with any series, revisiting familiar characters is like catching up with old friends.  The first few chapters bring the reader up to speed on who is doing what in life now {Carmen, for example, is a working actress in New York, thanks to the magic and free license of fiction}.  Brashares throws more than one unexpected twist into Sisterhood, though, and I found myself questioning how necessary some of those choices were.

I actually can't say my opinion on the plot line itself without giving away some of the twists, which wind up being an integral part of the story overall.  I will say that I was really disappointed when I hit the first big "surprise", a few chapters in to the novel.  It almost made me not want to keep reading, because Brashares' vision for these girls and where their lives would take them was clearly completely different than what I had expected.  I pushed ahead though, partly because I like to finish something when I start it, and mostly because regardless of whether I agree with the choices Brashares {or the characters} had made, I was still emotionally invested in their lives and I wanted to see how the rest of the book played out.

Sisterhood offered several more twists and turns as it progressed, some completely unexpected and some not quite as shocking.  It took me until almost the end of the novel to feel at peace with the direction the story had taken.  Ends were tied up, as in any proper chick-lit piece, and finally things seemed to make sense again ~ for myself, and for the girls.   I still don't think I agree with the life choices that Brashares laid out for at least some of the characters; but I respect the fact that ultimately they are her characters and she knows them better than the rest of us do.

Bottom line ~ if you were a Sisterhood fan {books or movies} before, you'll appreciate the opportunity to catch up with the girls now that they're "grown ups".  Just expect the unexpected when you curl up with this latest installment of the girls with the pants.  I wouldn't even mind a future book or two checking in on the sisterhood ~ just please no more crazy surprises!


{photo credit:}

Friday, February 10, 2012

Conversation Heart Cookie Cake Pops

When I spotted this "conversation heart" cookie-and-cake creation on Pinterest, I just about died.  Could you possibly find a more adorable homemade Valentine's Day treat?  I think not.

Darla at Bakingdom is the brains behind this ingenious creation, and she's managed to incorporate just about all my favorite things in the world ~ cookies, check...cake, check...sprinkles, check...bright, happy colors,, check...adorable stamps from Michael's, check! 

Darla swears this is an easy-peasy recipe, but it is a multi-step process, so instead of linking to her site and giving you the recipe here, I'm just going to link over to her site.  That way you'll have every single one of her pictures and instructions to follow!  Click here for her tips, instructions, and step-by-step photos!

I cannot wait to whip up these adorable cookie treats this weekend!


{photo credit:}

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

No-Bake Cake Batter Truffles

...well, isn't that a pretty title!

No-bake recipes are fantastic ~ one, if you've got kids they can help from start to finish, as there are no stove tops or ovens to worry about; two, a no-bake recipe always seems to be a simpler process {probably because the start-to-finish time is quicker}.  And I think we can all agree that all things cake {and cake batter} are indeed a good thing.

I happened across this scrumptious-looking picture of Chef in Training's creation on Pinterest, and I'm. In. Love.  What I especially like about these sweets is their versatility ~ you can use any flavor of cake mix you choose, although white-on-white does keep them looking pristine.  You can also match the truffles to any season or occasion, simply by switching up the color of the candy melts and/or the sprinkles.  Use white sugar sprinkles in January for wintery, snowball-esque treats; use the bright, multi-colored nonpareil sprinkles pictured for the perfect Easter desserts; coat the truffles with orange candy melts and black sprinkles for Halloween; etc.  

Cake Batter Truffles

Ingredients ~ Truffles
1/2     cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2     cup sugar
1 1/2  cups flour
1        cup yellow cake mix
1        tsp vanilla
1/8     tsp salt
3-4    Tbsp milk
2        Tbsp sprinkles

Ingredients ~ Coating
16       ounces {8 squares} almond bark, OR white candy melts
4         Tbsp yellow cake mix {if desired}

Beat together butter and sugar using an electric mixer until combined.  Add flour, cake mix, vanilla, and salt;  mix thoroughly.  Add 3 Tbsp of milk and blend; add additional milk if necessary to create a dough-like consistency.  Mix in sprinkles by hand.  Roll dough into one-inch balls and place on a parchment paper- or wax paper-lined cookie sheet.  Chill formed balls in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up.

While dough balls are chilling, melt almond bark or candy melts in the microwave {in 30-second intervals, or using package instructions} until smooth.  Stir between intervals.  Once melted, quickly stir in cake mix until incorporated completely.  {For smoother-looking truffles, don't add cake mix}.  Using a fork, dip truffles into almond bark; shake off excess by tapping the bottom of the fork on the side of the bowl.  Place truffle back on the cookie sheet and top with sprinkles.  Repeat with remaining balls until finished.

Chill coated truffles in the refrigerator until serving.  Makes approximately 24-30 truffles.



{photo credit:}

Monday, February 6, 2012

Red Velvet Cake Batter Dip

February is in full swing, and pink and red are the colors of the season ~ this fun and festive dip does not disappoint!  This sweet and creamy dip gets its awesome red hue from red velvet cake mix {much easier than pouring in copious amounts of red food coloring!}, and it pairs well with cookies or fruit for dipping!  Thanks to Something Swanky for the recipes.

For cookies, use easy Pillsbury Pre-Cut holiday cookies {they come with heart and Valentine prints, or Disney and Disney Princess designs}, your favorite cookie recipe, or the Funfetti Sugar Cookie recipe below!

Red Velvet Cake Batter Dip

8       ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2    cup butter, softened
2       cups red velvet cake mix
2-3   cups powdered sugar
3-4   Tbsp milk

In a stand mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter until smooth.

Mix in the red velvet cake mix, one cup at a time.  Add 1-2 Tbsp of milk, as needed, keeping consistency of batter smooth.

Mix in powdered sugar one cup at a time, alternating with tablespoons of milk.  Continue alternating powdered sugar and milk until the dip reaches the consistency and sweetness that you prefer.

Serve with cookies, graham crackers, or fruit for dipping.

Funfetti Sugar Cookies

3         cups all-purpose flour
2         tsp baking powder
1         cup sugar
1         cup butter, cold
1         egg
1 1/2   tsp vanilla
Pink and red sprinkles

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine all ingredients {except for sprinkles} in a stand mixer, and mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.  Dough will look crumbly at first, but will come together when mixed long enough.  Fold in sprinkles with a rubber spatula, or by hand as you roll the dough out.

Roll the dough onto a floured surface to about 1/4-inch thick.  Cut out desired shapes {hearts would be nice!}.  Place shapes onto prepared cookie sheets.  

Bake for 11-12 minutes.  Let cookies cool on sheet for a few minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

Enjoy, lovebugs!


Friday, February 3, 2012

What a Workout!

I may not have tried all the dance workout DVDs out there, but I sure have tried a lot.  Hip Hop Abs has been a long-time favorite {although I have no interest in seeing what I actually look like while doing it ~ I prefer to preserve the picture I've conjured up in my mind of myself looking like a pop star music video goddess};  Dancing with the Stars has a few workout DVDs out, one of which I love {see links below}; and I tried Carmen Electra's Cardio Striptease series when that was at the height of its popularity {for the record, your clothes stay on}.

I've had the two-disc Rockin' Body workout kit for a few years now {led by Shaun T, the trainer featured on both Hip Hop Abs and Insanity}.  There are four workouts ~ Mark, Move & Groove; Disco Groove; Party Express; and Shaun T's Dance Party ~ featured on the "blue" workout disc {although Mark, Move & Groove is really more like a brief instructional piece on several of the key moves featured throughout the other workouts}.  The red workout disc has three segments ~ Rock It Out, Hard-Core Abs and Booty Time.  The great thing about these DVDs is that on the back jackets, they list the length of each workout ~ so you can pick the segment that fits your schedule that day.

I've tried all the workouts on the blue DVD, and they're a blast.  You may feel a little silly doing some of the "disco moves" in the Disco Groove segment, but who cares?  You're having fun {I've actually laughed out loud at some points} and working up a sweat. 

For some reason I'd never paid much attention to the red DVD, until yesterday.  I wanted to do a half-hour workout, and the Booty Time segment fit the bill.  This workout may be my favorite in the whole series ~ I loved the moves {and actually felt reasonably coordinated doing them}, and today my thighs, quads, hamstrings, calves and booty are burning.  I haven't felt a really good day-after muscle burn from a workout in a while {probably because I do a lot more cardio than strength training}, and I had forgotten how good it felt to feel that good kind of "pain".  I will definitely be adding the Booty Time workout into my regular rotation, and now I'm even more curious to give the 10-minute Hard-Core Abs segment a whirl.

  I have no idea why they show 7 DVDs ~ there are 7 workouts on 2 DVDs

Rockin' Body is produced by Beachbody, the company that also offers Hip Hop Abs, Insanity, P90X, Brazil Butt Lift and more.  I've never tried a Beachbody product that I didn't like, although they can be a little...persistent {especially with Shakeology, the nutrition shake that they offer}.  For links to some of my favorite workout videos, Beachbody or not, see the list below.  {I also included some releases that I haven't tried yet, but sound fantastic}.
Some of My Faves

Hip Hop Abs  {Shaun T is just too adorable, and nice, which is a switch from the Jillian Michaels'-types of the workout world}
Insanity  {Cardiovascular-wise, I could keep up just fine with this high-intensity workout; the impact is too much, however, for my precarious knees, so I could not stick to the six-day-a-week program they prescribe.  I will probably throw this back into my mix, sporadically, in the near future}

Rodney Yee's Ultimate Power Yoga  {I've said it before and I'll say it again ~ I just love Rodney's style of teaching yoga, and the fact that this this DVD comes broken down into five 20-minute-or-so segments that you can mix and match as you please is just the icing on the cake}

10 Minute Solutions: Pilates  {Another DVD broken down into mix-and-match segments; Pilates is so fantastic for lengthening and strengthening your muscles, especially in your legs and core.  Sometimes I use the last segment on the DVD, Pilates for Flexibility, as my cool-down stretch after a different workout}
Dancing with the Stars Cardio Dance {This workout DVD is led by Kym, Maks and Ashly, and the jive is my favorite segment.  Some of the other DWTS vids are too hard for me to keep up with ~ literally; my feet don't move that fast! ~ but this one provides a fun, high-cardio workout without leaving me in the dust}

The Biggest Loser: Last Chance Workout  {If you watch Biggest Loser, you know that the Last Chance Workout is the final, give-it-all-you've-got workout done before weighing in for the week.  This Jillian Michaels-led DVD is great for people of all shapes and sizes ~ if you're just starting out with exercise or have limitations, plenty of modifications are given; if you're an old pro, give it your all and you'll get an amazing workout session}
Next On My List

Billy Blanks' Billy's Bootcamp: Cardio Inferno {I've had the original Billy's Bootcamp series for about five years now, and this seems like it will be even more intense!}
Bethenny's Skinnygirl Workout  {This is Bethenny's second workout DVD and was just released in December.  Of the ten reviews that have rolled in on Amazon, eight people gave 5-star reviews.  From what I read, these are yoga-based workouts broken up into fairly quick sections}.

Cardio Barre {Ballet workouts are no joke ~ ballerinas are strong, and their muscles are long, lean, and ladylike.}

The Physique 57 Solution {A book, not a DVD, actually.  Physique 57 classes in New York and LA are celeb-frequented, and the company offers both at-home DVDs and this just-released book.  The book offers step-by-step guides to their multi-format workouts, and the handful of Amazon reviews so far are all five-star}
Have fun workin' on your fitness, ladies!

{photo credit:}

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Guilt-Free Buffalo "Wings"

Super Bowl Sunday doesn't have to equal super-sizing your waistline.  Hopefully those New Years' Resolutions to eat healthy, exercise, and all that jazz are still in full effect.  But no one wants to have to count calories and feel deprived at big events and on holidays {and for many, the Super Bowl is probably more "holiday" than just "big event"}.

So, at the buffet table, the question is this ~ do you want it, or do you really want it?  Compromise is the name of the game ~ splurge where you really want to {need a beer with the game?; can't imagine football without Doritos?; want to save room for a P.B.-bacon-and-chocolate dessert?}, and make healthy swaps for those other snacks.  Check out this list of healthy party dishes and drinks from Women's Health magazine, including the Guilt-Free Buffalo "Wings" featured below.

Guilt-Free Buffalo "Wings"

1      pound chicken tenders
        ground black pepper
1/3   cup prepared Buffalo wing sauce {use your fave!}
4      ribs celery, cut into sticks
4      carrots, cut into sticks
2      kirby cucumbers, cut into spears
1/3   cup fat-free ranch dressing

Season the chicken tenders to taste with salt and pepper.

Coat a ridged grill pan with olive oil spray and heat over medium-high heat, or heat an electric countertop griller.  Grill the chicken, turning once, for about 4 minutes or until browned and no longer pink in the thickest part.  Cut into bite-sized pieces.  Transfer to a bowl and toss with Buffalo sauce.

Place the chicken on a platter with the celery, carrots, cucumbers, and the ranch dressing for dipping.  Serve with wooden toothpicks.

This recipe is super easy to double or triple, depending on the size of your crowd.  {Looking for more?  Click through Fitness Magazine's healthy appetizer slideshow, featuring more upscale snacks like Cheese, Bacon & Endive Boats and Wild Mushroom Crostini}.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Bacon Bars

I've heard a lot lately about how amazing the combination of chocolate and bacon is over the past few years ~ I even remember someone on the Food Network raving about straight-up chocolate-dipped bacon {I think it was Duff from Ace of Cakes}.  This Betty Crocker number is the perfect recipe to test out the choco-bacon waters.

Side note:  this type of dessert couldn't be more perfect for those who don't like their sweets too sweet ~ peanut butter and bacon add lots of salty goodness, and semi-sweet chocolate is the same as dark chocolate.  These treats could be just the thing to serve up at your Super Bowl party this weekend, when the chips and dips have disappeared half-time is in full effect.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bacon Bars

1     pouch Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix
1/3  cup vegetable oil
2     Tbsp maple-flavored syrup
1     egg
10   slices bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled {about 3/4 cup}
1/2  cup chopped peanuts
1     cup semi-sweet chocolate chips {6 ounces}

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly spray 9- or 8-inch square pan with cooking spray.

In large bowl, stir together cookie mix, oil, syrup, and egg until soft dough forms.  Reserve 1/4 cup bacon for garnish.  Stir remaining bacon and peanuts into dough.  Press evenly in pan.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Return to oven; bake 1 minute.  Immediately spread chocolate over bars.  Sprinkle reserved 1/4 cup bacon over chocolate.  Cool completely, about 1 hour or until chocolate is set.

Cut into 16 pieces {4 rows by 4 rows}.  Store tightly covered in refrigerator.