Tuesday, October 23, 2012

And now a review of... birchbox

     I am one of those poor souls who never really learned how to style my hair or put on makeup like the sophisticated grown-up woman that my childhood self had imagined I’d be.  Until I had a job that I had to wear a blazer for, Chapstick was about as complicated as it got- maybe a single eyeshadow shade.  Despite that, however, I have never been able to resist the cosmetics aisle, making impulsive, aspirational purchases that often languished in the bottom of my bathroom drawer after a few uses.  With the budget as tight as it is for so many of us, I haven’t been able to indulge myself to my expensive habit as much as I’d like, until I ran across birchbox.

     I read about birchbox in February in Bloomberg Businessweek.  Two women attending Harvard Business School came up with the idea, and began the company in 2010.  The gist is that, for a $10 monthly subscription fee for the women’s box or $20 for the men’s, you get a small box with samples (usually six) of luxury beauty and ‘lifestyle’ products.  Then you return to the birchbox website to buy your favorites, and earn points on your purchases good for discounts in the future.  They also offer the ability to gift a subscription (I have always loved gifting subscriptions- it’s a little reminder to the recipient each month that you care!).  Available in 3, 6, or 12 month durations, it’s especially affordable in the realm of recurring gifts.

     For me, $10 for a box full of the very sorts of items I usually buy on impulse is great, even though the samples are selected for me based on my profile.  My favorite birchbox discoveries have been Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Cleanser (full size $22), Orofluido Elixer ($29.99), Vapour Organic Beauty Siren Lipstick ($22), and Harvey Prince Hello fragrance ($55).  There were also many other samples, but they just didn’t become favorites.  As you can see, even just these items would have cost $129.99!  Plus, my typical impulse buy is in the individual range of $5 to $9, so I never would have discovered these products.

     As I said, those are my favorites, but there were many other items- in all of my boxes, I have received 48 products to date, at a total cost of $80.  If, hypothetically, these were the typical impulse buys, even if only $5 each, they would have cost me $240 total.  With a satisfaction rate among those purchases at only 8%, I would be pretty upset with myself!  This is not to say that I am only 8% satisfied with birchbox, however; I still enjoy trying out the products, getting a little ‘gift’ from myself in the mail each month is fun, and the things I really have no interest in go into my stockpile for guests or care packages for friends.

     As far as customer service goes, I have been satisfied.  It is a little odd that you are on a waitlist before your subscription begins, as I was for one month, but it makes sense.  It’s still a growing company, and they primarily send boxes out in one wave each month.  I suspect that beginning subscriptions willy-nilly would add to their costs, and $10 a month is a nice, widely accessible price that I hope they are able to keep.  Since beginning my subscription, I moved across the country, and apparently did not update my zip code when I updated the rest of my address.  When I contacted birchbox to let them know that I had not received my shipment, it did take a few days for them to get back to me.  They apologized for the delay, however, and they immediately sent out a replacement.

     Bottom line- I like birchbox.  Have I gotten a box without anything that I absolutely fell in love with?  Yes.  But I feel that I’ve spent less at the drugstore because I know I will have some surprise guilty pleasures waiting in my mailbox within a few weeks.  And as I’ve said, even the items I don’t like provide the enjoyment of trying them out- or at least goodies for my friends!  Plus, I’ve gotten to try products that my makeup & hair challenged self would have been too intimidated to pick out on my own, like eye crayons and UV hair serum.  I’m slowly developing those sophisticated techniques I always thought I’d have (although Chapstick will always be part of the regimen)!  I’d love to try the birchbox man, too- please post in the comments if you have!  Their October box seems to have included whisky stones, how cool is that?!

     So what are you waiting for?  Give birchbox a shot!

****birchbox has not provided any consideration for this unsolicited review.  I have not received any payment or free products.  This is my honest and personal opinion.  I will, however, get birchbox points (to spend in their online shop) if you join through my links within this review.  Thank you!

Here are some of the goodies from various birchboxes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Fish Fry

Who doesn't love a good Friday Fish Fry?  Nobody I know.  I've tried a lot of recipes over the years, with mostly disappointing results.  I hit paydirt last time I made it, though, and I'd love to share the recipe!  This is my own recipe, created from a mishmash of all of the failed attempts.  It has a nice flavor- no bland batter here!- and I'm sure your family will love it.

1) In a large bowl, thoroughly combine flour, cornstarch, salt, cayenne, Old Bay, paprika, Creole Seasoning, and pepper (basically, all ingredients except baking powder).  Transfer 1 cup of mixture to a Pyrex baking dish.
2) Heat oil over medium heat.  Meanwhile, dry fish and cut into serving-size pieces.  Dredge, both sides, in mixture in baking dish.  This is to help the batter stick.
3) Combine baking powder with flour mixture.  Add beer slowly until consistency is a little thicker than pancake batter.
4) Dip fish in batter, coating thoroughly.  Again dredge the fish in the baking dish mixture- this will help make the fish nice and crispy.
5) Once the oil is hot enough (around 375 degrees is the goal, but I just use my judgement), place the fish in the oil a couple pieces at a time.  You don't want more than two or three pieces, or just one if your pan is very small, so that they can cook evenly.  About 7-8 minutes total for each piece is perfect, flipping once the first side is golden brown.
6) As you finish each piece, set on a wire cooling rack over some paper towels and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.  Serve with fries, and corn on the cob.

I like mine with tartar sauce, but my husband likes his with HP Sauce.  It's a steak sauce, but it has a strong vinegar taste that pairs well with the fried fish.  I didn't take any pictures- sorry!- but I'll update the post next time I make it.  Happy eating! :)