Beautiful and Cheap, In the Best Possible Way

I love wandering through the makeup counters at department stores. The alluring scents, the pretty packages, the illusion of perfection. I confess, it sucks me in. But never all the way.

I have a rule. I never spend more than $10 on beauty products. Ever. If it can’t be done for $10, it probably shouldn’t be done. And yet, I’m still a sucker for perfume and lip gloss and eye cream. I’m a girl. What can I say?


My trick to getting my beauty fix on the cheap is BirchBox. For $10, they send me a box full of high end samples every month. You can also earn points on the site by reviewing items, and referring friends. Every 100 points is ten dollars off a purchase. And when you sign up, you take this long survey about what you’re into, so the box is tailored to your style.

March Birchbox

There are usually between four and six products each months. Mostly they’re one or two use samples, but occasionally you get a full size item. Often though, even the sample sizes last me for months. Check out the massive amount of stuff I still have since I got my first box at the end of May.


I think the idea is that you try the samples and then you’ll want to pay full price to order the stuff from their site. If you’re into that, go for it. But that breaks my $10 rule. I don’t care how good the $50 shampoo makes my hair feel. Plus, I’m pretty fickle. A full size product is usually too much of a commitment for me anyway.

Beauty can be expensive. Not being able to afford highlights and $40 lipstick sometimes gets me down. But then I just think of all the books and chocolate I could buy and remember that my makeup is going to come off when I go to the beach, anyway. Birchbox is my monthly treat. A little present to myself. I think I’m worth $10.

birchbox overfloweth

Ditching Cable and Retro Yellow Cake with Fudge Frosting

Here’s a poor girl confession. I don’t have cable. This is not some noble gesture. I don’t have cable because I’m cheap. I still waste plenty of time watching TV, I just do it a bit more selectively by using my husband’s PS3 to stream Netflix. We get one DVD at a time, plus the streaming service, and it’s $15 a month. So, I figure that’s at least $40 a month I save to spend on cheese and chocolate. You know, the important stuff.

Netflix shows its sense of humor
Netflix shows its sense of humor

When I lived in Taiwan, I discovered I didn’t miss cable nearly as much as I thought I would. I no longer flipped through the channels and got sucked into watching train wreck reality TV, and though I did miss cooking shows, I just became obsessed with food blogs instead.

I love movies and television, but now I just watch selectively. I choose the shows and movies I think are worth my time, then I watch all of them back to back. Then I cry when I learn that they cancelled Stargate Universe halfway through the story arch. Those guys are just floating in space. It’s a tragedy.

Give it a shot. Ditch cable and subscribe to a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon Prime. There are so many ways that you can hook your TV up to the internet these days. Pretty soon, cable will be a thing of the past anyway. The only thing you’ll miss out on is commercials.

Then use the extra money to make yourself a cake. You deserve to celebrate your cleverness.


I can’t just leave you with nothing to show for your visit here. So because I watched Argo recently, I’ll show you how to make this fabulously retro yellow cake with fudge frosting. It’s so 70’s, just like the hair and costumes in that film.


If you haven’t seen Argo yet, make sure you put it in your queue. It was thoroughly entertaining, funny and emotional, and highly suspenseful. Ben Affleck is a great director, and the tension in this film is riveting. He pulled off quite of feat getting me to bite my nails over a story based on a historical event. I knew how it would end, but I was still on the edge of my seat.

Watch Argo, eat this cake, and you’ll be like “cable schmable” before you know it.

Retro Yellow Cake with Fudge Frosting

Retro Yellow Cake with Fudge Frosting
Yields 1
A classic yellow cake with thick fudge frosting, just like the old days.
Write a review
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
30 min
for the cake
  1. 4 whole eggs
  2. 2 egg yolks
  3. 1-1/4 cup buttermilk
  4. 2 tsp vanilla extract
  5. 3 cups (360 grams) cake flour
  6. 2 cups (400 grams) sugar
  7. 1 Tbsp plus 1/2 tsp baking powder
  8. 1/2 tsp salt
  9. 2 sticks (227 grams) unsalted butter, room temp, cut into small pieces
for the frosting
  1. 6 oz unsweetened chocolate (the baking kind, not the kind you eat) melted and cooled
  2. 4-1/2 cups (563 grams) powdered sugar
  3. 3 sticks (340 grams) unsalted butter, room temp
  4. 6 Tbsp half and half (any dairy will do, but skim milk won’t be as rich)
  5. 1Tbsp vanilla extract
for the cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour 2 nine inch round cake pans. (This recipe was originally 3 layers, but I only have two pans. Work with what you got.) If you have it, line the bottom of each pan with parchment, just to be safe.
  2. Crack the eggs and yolks into a separate bowl, then add ONLY 1/4 cup of the buttermilk, and all the vanilla. Whisk or beat with a fork to blend.
  3. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in your mixing bowl and whisk to combine. (If you’re using a stand mixer, use the stir setting instead.)
  4. Add the butter and remaining 1 cup buttermilk to the dry ingredients and mix on low until combined.
  5. Turn your mixer up to medium for about 2 minutes. The mixture will be light and fluffy.
  6. Add the egg mixture slowly. Scrape down your bowl and give it one more mix, just until everything is incorporated.
  7. Divide the batter between your waiting pans.
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes or until your cake tester comes out clean and the sides have started to pull away from the edge.
  9. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning them out. Use wire racks if you have them. Allow cake to cool completely.
for the frosting
  1. If you have a food processor, simply throw all the ingredients into it, flip the switch, and wait for it to all come together.
  2. Without a food processor, I would sift the powdered sugar into the bowl. Still throw everything in together and mix until combined. Electricity is a lazy baker’s best friend.
  3. This frosting should be dense and fudgy, not light and airy, so if you’re using a mixer, go with the paddle attachment.
  4. I assembled my cake by placing the first cake layer onto my plate, then slapping on about 1/3 of the frosting. Spread it evenly, then place the other cake layer on the top. Place some frosting on the top and work it over the edges, then frost the top. Get as creative as you like. But try to make it like Kitty Forman would. It will taste better that way.
Adapted from Sweetapolita
Adapted from Sweetapolita
How to be Awesome on $20 a day


Chickens…They’re Cheaper Than Dogs

What are you looking at?

Hi, I’m Renee’s husband, Geoff! Renee said I could write a few guest posts in her awesomely awesome blog about how to be awesome for $20…so here we go!

A few months ago, we decided that we wanted to buy some chickens (as you do). We had heard all sorts of great things about how awesome your life would be if you had your own little “Garden T-Rexs,” so I thought I’d share a few of those with you now!

1) First of all, what does a pedigree dog cost these days? $500? $1000? Probably more than that in some cases! Chickens cost $1.50 each, and that’s not for some run-of-the-mill street chicken. Our girls are thoroughbreds!

2) Chickens do have a great appetite but thankfully are only very small so that means your food costs are going to be pretty small. We buy a 20 pound bag of chicken food for $11 every 3 weeks or so! You can also feed these guys your table scraps for an extra treat!


3) Chickens are awesome!

4) Chickens lay eggs! Our girls produce an egg each every day; that’s 14 eggs a week! I’ve been eating scrambled eggs for lunch for most of this week, for free! Our eggs are also free-range, pesticide-free and taste amazing!

5) Chickens keep control of all of the pests in the garden. We have seen a marked drop in the number of cockroaches, moths, lizards, mantises and other generally creepy-crawly things! This is a great way to keep your garden nice and healthy for free.

6) Chickens fertilize your plants! You know those little chicken ‘presents’ that they leave for you all over the garden? Well, after you spray the garden down with the hose, they drop their nutrients into the soil, making your plants big and strong!

7) Chickens make good companion animals. Beating all of these other reasons, my favorite thing about chickens is that if you are feeling a little down or upset, you can go out into the garden and cuddle with one! They are so soft (like a feather pillow).

Omm nomm nomm

Well, I hope that I’ve given you enough reasons to go out and buy yourselves a couple of little egg-machines. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my guest post and I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me again (until I manage to find a job).


You Gotta Hustle plus Chocolate Mint Cupcakes

Every now and then times are especially hard. Sometimes your husband’s boss is crazy-go-nuts and decides to fire him for no good reason. And right before your wedding when you could have really used the money. These things happen. What are you gonna do?


One solution we’ve come up with is using our creativity to make a bit of extra cash. It’s usually not much, but it has definitely paid for a nice dinner out, or in the case of my husband, helped to pay the rent.

But it’s more than just the money. We both have boring desk jobs right now, so our side projects also help give our busy minds a purpose. You can’t hold anything back if you want to survive in this world.

Treatsies Bakery Logo

My pretend business is Treatsies Bakery. Mostly I make desserts for friends to take to parties, but occasionally I get invited to an event as a vendor. It’s on the DL, seeing as how I haven’t quite gotten all my paperwork in order. Someday I’d love to turn it into a for real job, but right now, I bake what I can when I can and try to get people to trade cupcakes for cash.


My husband does website design through his soon-to-launch company Griggabytes. He’s much more legit than I am. He designed my website, obviously, as well as a few local non-profits. He gets paid real money for his work. And for reasons I cannot quite comprehend, he really enjoys it.

I love how so many of my friends are making their lives a little richer by using their gifts to create something. And the internet is mindblowingly awesome for making that possible.

7th & West Logo

Check out my friend and former student, Westin at 7th and West. She makes and sells jewelry, and it’s so freakin’ cute. You wish you were wearing one of her pieces right now, don’t you?

Lily Love Logo

I also have a long lost cousin on Kauai who makes these awesome fringe t-shirts through her project, Lily Love. She’s also a fantastic photographer.  You should totally pay her to capture you looking beautiful.

Chocolate Mint Cupcakes

Treatsies Bakery was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to peddle our wares at an event recently. I made chocolate almond mint cupcakes, banana cupcakes with honey cinnamon frosting, and caramel-stuffed apple cider cookies. I’ll give you the recipe for the chocolate mint. Don’t tell anyone how easy they are, though. 😉

My father has this annoying habit of telling me that I can do anything I set my mind to. Mostly I try not to listen to him, but I always find myself doing things I’m probably not qualified for. If courage is being scared but doing it anyway, then I’m super brave.

I hope you’re using your hidden talents to make a bit of extra cash. It’s tough out there. You gotta hustle.

Photo by Monica Sczcupider
Photo by Monica Sczcupider

Chocolate Mint Cupcakes
Yields 24
Light and delicious chocolate almond cupcake with creamy mint frosting
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Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
25 min
Prep Time
20 min
Cook Time
25 min
For the cake
  1. 100 grams (1/2 cup) chocolate chips
  2. 175 grams (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  3. 200 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  4. 1 tsp b
  5. 275 grams (1 1/4 cup) brown sugar
  6. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  7. 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  8. 150 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk
  9. aking powder
  10. 1 tsp baking soda
  11. 100 grams (2/3 cup) ground almonds (I can never seem to find these, so I buy slivered almonds and chuck them in my food processor to grind them)
For the frosting
  1. 200 grams (2 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
  2. 250 grams (2 cups) powdered sugar, sifted
  3. 1 tsp peppermint extract
  4. green food coloring, or not, whatever you like
for the cake
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 and prep 24 cupcake papers. If you only have one pan, stash the batter in the fridge between batches. It’s not the end of the world.
  2. Boil some water, then measure out your chocolate into a bowl. Pour 120 ml (1/2 cup) of the boiling water over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and smoothish. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
  3. With your mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the vanilla to your beaten eggs.
  5. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the egg mixture.
  6. Add the chocolate, and for all that is holy, use a rubber spatula to get as much of the chocolate out as possible. Don’t let any of it go to waste.
  7. Add the buttermilk and mix until combined. If you’ve been using a stand mixer, you can abandon it at this point. It’s elbow grease from now on.
  8. Sift the flour, baking powder, and baking soda over your wet ingredients, then add the almonds.
  9. Fold the wet and dry ingredients together.
  10. Divide your batter between the 24 cups. I use my cookie scoop. Each one gets two generous scoops. Fill them about two thirds full.
  11. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until they spring back when touched.
  12. Let them cool in the pan for about 2 minutes, then cool them completely on a wire rack if you have it. Or the counter is totally fine, too.
for the frosting
  1. Beat the butter and powdered sugar together with your mixer on medium high for about five minutes. It should be light and fluffy.
  2. Turn the mixer down to low and add in the peppermint extract and food coloring for your desired effect.
  3. Marry your cake and frosting in whatever way you see fit. I used a Wilton 1m tip straight above the cupcake. Just squeeze it for about three seconds. Easy peasy.
  1. *Original recipe is metric, so use your food scale if you’ve got it. Math’s not my thing.
Adapted from Olive Magazine
Adapted from Olive Magazine
How to be Awesome on $20 a day

We want to hear about your side project. Please feel free to share your link in the comments.

Check us out on the link party at Chocolate, Chocolate, and More.

Check us out on the link party at Buns in My Oven.

Cholesterol Sandwich

I’ve been wanting to share this humble sandwich with you ever since I first conceived of this blog. It’s in a close race with my mom’s tacos for the thing most often eaten in this house. It’s something you can throw together with things you probably have laying around your kitchen, and it brings me ridiculous amounts of joy to eat it. We like to call it the cholesterol sandwich.

Cholesterol Sandwich

Okay, it’s really just bacon, egg, and cheese on toast. We give weird names to things sometimes. Get over it.

There are a few things you have to do to make this sandwich extra special. I could say make your bacon anyway you like, but if you’re not cooking your bacon to utter crispiness, as in moments from incineration, then your sandwich probably won’t be as awesome. You’ll bite into it and your bacon won’t snap and you’ll end up pulling off an entire piece of bacon at once. I hate that. Crispy bacon, people. It’s the way of the future.

Crispy Bacon

And you absolutely must fry your eggs the way my husband does. The first time I saw him doing this, I was utterly disgusted. But then I ate the sandwich, and I was utterly delighted. You have to crack the egg right into the pool of bacon fat you’ve just created, and then splash the bacon fat over the egg to cook it. The egg doesn’t get flipped, it just gets bathed in bacon fat until the whites are set and the yolk is at maximum oozing potential.

Cholesterol Sandwich Perfect Egg

And if you can get eggs fresh from your backyard, you win the super awesome medal of awesomeness. There will be a post on the awesomest of pets coming soon.

My Chicken

There’s nothing fancy here. You could jazz it up with smoked gouda. You could make it healthy with turkey bacon. There are a million variations. But if you want to make a heavenly meal on the cheap, buy whatever bacon is on sale at your grocery store. If they have a buy one get one free deal, you are in major luck. Put the other pack in the freezer and you’ll have cholesterol sandwiches for weeks. Then use whatever cheese you happen to have in your refrigerator. If you try to tell me you don’t usually have cheese in your fridge at any given moment, then you’ve probably been possessed by aliens.

Cholesterol Sandwich

Make this sandwich. Mix it up. Put on it whatever you like. But don’t skip the egg bathed in fat. And whatever you do, don’t overcook it. If you don’t have egg yolk running down your arm before the end, you’re not doing it right. You will be transported. I promise

Cholesterol Sandwich
Serves 1
The most ridiculous bacon egg and cheese sandwich ever.
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Total Time
20 min
Total Time
20 min
  1. 2-3 slices of bacon
  2. 2 slices of bread
  3. 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
  4. 1 slice of cheese (or a fat pinch if shredded)
  5. 1 egg
  1. Lay your bacon slices in a frying pan on medium high heat and cook to your desired level of crispiness.
  2. In the meantime, toast your bread and spread mayo on both sides. Put your cheese on while the bread is still warm.
  3. When the bacon is ready, lay it on a paper towel covered plate to drain.
  4. Crack your egg into the bacon grease. Try to keep it toward the edge. Tilt your pan toward the egg to make a pool of grease. Use your spatula to gently splash the grease over the egg. Once the whites have set, carefully lift out the egg and place it on top of the cheese.
  5. Break up your bacon and arrange it on your sandwich. Top it with the toast and give it a gentle press.
How to be Awesome on $20 a day
Cholesterol Sandwich Aftermath


Once you pick up this sandwich, you won’t be able to put it down. Don’t bother with napkins, just keep eating until it’s done, then go wash your hands. The euphoria will last for hours.

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