Any time I use the word “lifestyle” it makes me feel like I consider myself on par with Gwyneth Paltrow. While I’d love to lead a very glamorous and enviable life, the reality of it is that you, too, can live like @MarvyDarling for as little as $9.99/month and the cost of a couple pounds of chicken. Moving right along, then.

sheet masks modern renaissance innisfree benton anastasia beverly hills

Indulgence of the Year: Sheet Masks

Much like every other femme this year, I’ve become very fond of sheet masks. The thing about sheet masks is that, by and large, they’re basically moisture-bombs. The actual sheet part does the job of trapping moisture so it has a chance to really sink into your skin, rather than evaporating. For that reason, I like to apply them after my actives (acids) and before my nighttime moisturizer. Because of my skin type — dehydrated, combo/dry, somewhat sensitive, and prone to hormonal acne and post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation —  I favor masks with honey, acne-friendly oils, or snail secretion filtrate.

I don’t rely on masks to do the heavy lifting in my skincare regiment, because that’s what actives, serums, and moisturizers are for. What I look to masks for is an immediate plumping, brightening, or soothing effect that lasts overnight. And, to be honest, I just enjoy the feeling of a good mask. It makes me happy, and I’m willing to pay $1-2.50 per mask for a little slice of happy. (I also really suck at relaxing, so popping on a sheet mask literally forces me to lie still for 20 minutes.)

These are my favorites so far.

#CheapFemme Product of the Year: Essence “The Gel” Polish & Top Coat

I do my nails roughly once a week, a habit that I’ve been cultivating for a good four years now. In that time, I’ve amassed quite a nail polish collection, from low-low-end to mid-range brands like OPI and Essie. (I never splash out more than $12 for a polish. I’m a #cheapfemme.) But in all that time, I had never found a polish that really stuck to my nails and remained chip-free for longer than 3 days… until 2016.

What if I told you that there exists $3 nail polish that is actually capable of a week’s worth of wear? I have some good news: There is! Essence is a German brand that’s recently become more widely available in the States. You can score it at Ulta, on Ulta.com, or at Fred Meyer in the PNW. I swear to you, this is some of the best nail polish I have ever used. Most of the shades1 go on smooth, glossy, and richly pigmented. In particular, I really love Fame Fatal (fire engine red), Sweet As Candy (soft baby pink), and Need Your Love (deep brownish wine). Moreover, the matching Gel topcoat is amazing, both with their own brand polishes and with other formulations like Wet n Wild One Step Wonder Gel and even Sally Hansen. Essence is also cruelty-free.

#HighMaintenance Product of the Year: Anastasia Beverly Hills Modern Renaissance eyeshadow palette

Until I received this palette for my birthday, I thought that Lorac made the best eyeshadow palettes. I was wrong. That distinction belongs to Anastasia Beverly Hills (although the shadow formulations are pretty similar, to be fair). What I love about this palette is that it’s neutral-ish, but it’s not another neutral palette. It’s not another Naked. It’s not 50 Shades of Beige. For someone with neutral-warm undertones, dark eyes, and dark hair, this palette does a beautiful job complimenting my coloring while still helping me create interesting looks. I can easily blend out 1 or 2 colors in my crease to just add a little dimension to a daytime look, or I can do a bold, warm smokey eye.

As for the quality of the shadows, I am in no way disappointed. The shades are just about universally smooth, easy-to-blend, and nicely pigmented. I’m a bit more impressed by the matte shades than by the shimmers, but I love matte shadows so that might just be personal preference talking.

Drink of the Year: Lambrusco

Much like another favorite (see below), Lambrusco is a divisive choice. It’s both red and sparkling, and some people think it’s passé. If you go with too cheap a bottle — tends to be overly sweet with an artificial aftertaste — you might feel like your wine was chosen by a middle school kid. But trust me: Lambrusco can be amazing. In Rome, I had the chance to try some with my brick oven pizza. Evidently, they sell so much of it that they keep it on tap; after tasting it, I can totally see why. It was bright and fruity, a touch on the sweet side but definitely not reaching dessert territory. Most of all, the bubbles kept it festive and vacation-y.

I first learned about Lambrusco from Marissa A. Ross’s New Years Eve “Ask A Wino” video. If you’re not familiar with her work, I would highly recommend it!

TV Show of the Year: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

If you’re not watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine yet, you really oughta be. It’s hilarious, it’s queer, it’s progressive… It’s the show we deserve. (Major props to Kate of GirlyJuice for introducing me to it!)

Exhibit A, Diversity: Of the 10 top-billed cast members, 6 are people of color. One character is gay (though unfortunately not played by a gay actor), and it’s widely thought that Jake is bisexual.

Exhibit B, Social Awareness: In the Season 3 opener, Jake makes a joke using the word transphobic. Allegedly, this is the first time anyone on a network comedy has acknowledged transphobia, and he did so in a funny, engaging way. Beyond that, there are positive references to feminism and queerness on a somewhat regular basis. As much as it puzzles me to say this, don’t dismiss it right out of the gate on the basis of a white cis-dude main character.

Exhibit C, Gina Linetti: Chelsea Peretti’s character is, hands down, my favorite in the ensemble cast. While no one should actually behave the way that Gina does, when I’m suffering from really intense social anxiety and self-doubt, I often remind myself that “Gina Linetti is a state of mind.”

Clothing Item of the Year: Bodysuits

Alright, listen. I know. Garments with snaps on the crotch are kitschy, or childish, or tacky. They’re overdone. Whatever. I do not care, because I like them.

I have the world’s shortest torso, in part because I am an adult in miniature form. I’m 4’11” and there’s just not a lot of space on this frame. So what that means is that every shirt is too long. (Unless it’s a crop top, and then it’s awkwardly hanging down to my navel.) When I try to tuck a long-ass shirt into my pants or skirt, it gets all bunched up and awkward. Not so with a bodysuit! It’s so sleek and streamlined! I can wear a black one with my black yoga leggings and black Adidas and look like the world’s sexiest burglar! Case closed.

Food of the Year: Brined and Marinated Chipotle-esque Chicken Breast

Brine your chicken, change your life.

Now, let me explain something: I love Chipotle. I also don’t have access to Chipotle, which means that I have to make Chifauxtle for myself whenever I get a Chipotle craving (which is about once every two weeks). It’s taken me 3 years to crack the code, but I think I’ve finally got it.

See, Chipotle uses boneless, skinless chicken thighs and marinates them in Adobo sauce. I don’t have access to boneless, skinless chicken thighs, because Germany. So what’s a girl to do? Well, once my brilliant friend Ashley Manta suggested brining chicken breast, the first part of the puzzle was complete. A nicely brined breast has the tenderness of a thigh (though, admittedly, not the same flavor). Unlike the tough, stringy, dry chicken breasts of yore, a brined breast is juicy and plump. Next comes homemade Adobo sauce, which was a bit trickier. …Until I got a little tipsy on my birthday, went overboard on the spices, and fuckin’ cracked that wide open!

To make this at home, first follow the guidelines for a quick brine from The Kitchn. I like to brine my meat in the fridge for 8-16 hours, but your mileage may vary. After that, drain the meat and add your marinade ingredients (which would be more of a dry rub if the meat weren’t wet). You’ll need smoked paprika (it must be smoked!), garlic powder, onion powder, curry powder, cracked black pepper, and chopped jalapeños. For extra heat, I would recommend adding a bird chili or some of your favorite hot sauce. Pop the lid back on your meat and shake the hell out of it, preferably over your kitchen sink. Let it rest overnight or for up to a day, then slap it on the grill/grill pan/regular pan/whatever.

Whew! Well, it’s been Quite A Year, has it not? Share your yearly favorites with me in the comments or on Twitter! I’ll be back soon with some exciting plans for 2017.

  1. I’ve noticed that just about every brand’s pastel mint green goes on streaky and sheer, and Essence is no exception.