In Praise of Minimalism: Vegetarian and Italian Food Traditions

I love the ethos of Italian cuisine. Variety may be the spice of life, but simplicity is its main ingredient. Whether that’s a warm cup of tea before bed or a small, quiet moment with someone you love, it doesn’t have to scintillate for it to be recognizably beautiful. Thus, the food of Italia. There are no surprises when you eat, and the ingredients don’t attempt to impress you. To begin with, there are never usually more than three or four ingredients at all, but each is reliably fresh, local, and expertly-prepared. As an ethical vegetarian and one already slightly inclined toward minimalist habits, I felt as if I was among birds of the same feather during my stay in Italy and that no more a harmonious marriage of food philosophies could be made than between that of Italy and my own.

The simplicity of vegetarianism is in its economy, but I even find the attendant humility of plant-foods to be an attractive aspect of the diet. It’s true that eating at a low trophic level can be an incredibly sustainable dietary choice in a world of increasingly limited resources and can constitute an affordable diet for those on a college budget. However, for me the real charm of vegetarianism is in the daily ways it connects me to myself and to those I care about. During moments of intermittent relief from the daily deluge that life normally brings, I love to prepare my own food. It’s a simple pleasure to be able to wash and chop my own vegetables and take the time to prepare a meal for either myself or those I love. Whether it’s warm bowls of veggie soup or spiced porridge on wintry days, or colorful fruit salads in spring, it does satisfy something besides just hunger. It’s a way to care about myself, my friends and family, and the planet that we inhabit.

There’s a similar flavor that is imparted to the food you eat in Italy, not just in the way it’s prepared, but in the way it’s eaten. Everything seems to move just a little slower in Italy, and that includes the meals. That can be frustrating for those of us used to a hit-and-run, grab-and-go lifestyle, but the evening repast in Italy is less about the food one eats and more about who has joined you for it. And hopefully you like who joins you; it wasn’t uncommon when I was in Italy for dinner to push three or four hours long, with the expectation that you were involved in lively conversation with your tablemates. Therefore, a simple meal becomes more. It’s a facilitator, a binding agent, and the unimposing complement to something already good: human companionship.

There is something quite beautiful about the unassuming—the things that don’t ask for attention or reward, so simple that they can only be honest, so obviously good that they can be the first to get overlooked precisely because of their simplicity. I discovered a few of these things in Italy—whether it was line-drying my clothes in the orchard behind the Casale San Giorgio of Barbarano Romano, hiking up the San Giuliano plateau on brisk yet golden mornings, or traipsing over hills bespangled with wildflowers in the hopes of finding ancient Etruscan tombs. Yet the best part about the simple things is that they are for everyone, and you certainly don’t have to go to Italy to find them. They are likely right beside you.

 

— Anna Lam

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Ella’s Travel Makeup Bag

I like to think I’m a minimalist. Or at least I like to think that I’m TRYING to get there. (Spoiler: she was not, in fact, doing much to achieve this goal). As it is, my travel makeup bag has shrunk a good deal in the past two years. When I’m traveling, I tend to gravitate towards smaller, lighter products and often ones that can multi-task. I’m visiting home for two weeks, so keep reading to see what I’m bringing along.

The Face:

I tend not to use foundation or even tinted moisturizer because my skin runs fairly oily and I still haven’t found a product that doesn’t end up looking cakey on me, so I’m just bringing my Milk Makeup Blur Stick and  Glossier Stretch Concealer. The blur stick is great for oil control and evens out the tone of my skin a little. The concealer is quite bright and dewy so it’s great for areas like my under-eyes and around my nose, but it doesn’t do much for coverage. Which is fine for me, because I don’t really look for that in a concealer. I’m also bringing Glossier Cloud Paint in Dusk, which I use under my cheekbones to accent them, and my Glossier Haloscope for highlight. Although I generally use a bit of powder on my T-zone for oil control, I decided not to include it in my travel bag.

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The Eyes:

For my eyebrows, I’m just using my all-time favorite brow product: Glossier Boy Brow in black. It grooms and fills brows at the same time, which is great for people with sad brows (me) and people who don’t know how to do their brows (me). For eyes, I’m bringing the Jillian Dempsey Lid Tint in bronze, which is a sheer yet buildable cream eyeshadow. I also use cloud paint as eyeshadow, when I’m feeling a slightly peachy/brown eye.  My eyeliner situation is a bit strange. I haven’t found a single eyeliner that stays on my eyelids longer than two hours—gel, liquid, or pencil (even while using the Smashbox eyeshadow primer). What I did discover was that layering a liquid eyeliner OVER a pencil eyeliner somehow will last me through the day. So, much to the annoyance of my trying-to-be-minimalist-self, I’m bringing two eyeliners with me: a kohl liner by Jillian Dempsey and the Stila All Day liquid liner. My mascara is the Too Faced Better than Sex, which has very bulky packaging. But it’s such a good mascara that I don’t care.

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The Lips:

For lips I’m just bringing my Glossier lipstick in Leo, and the Cherry Balm dot com. These can be worn separately or together to create more intense looks or more natural lips.

And of course everything fits neatly into a Glossier pink pouch, which I really love using when I travel because it’s like I bubble-wrapped all my makeup. It fits quite neatly in my carry-on and I don’t have to worry about anything spilling or breaking during my flight.

So, there you have the ten makeup items I bring with me while traveling. I think I’d still like to downsize a bit, though everything fits pretty neatly into one bag so I’d be happy either way.

 

–Ella Liu

Ella’s Acne Fighting Products

“Maybe if I love my acne, it will leave me too.” This funny (lightly depressing) quote I saw somewhere a while ago started me thinking about the implications of covering up imperfections instead of listening to the repeated chorus of “love your imperfections!” that saturates the beauty world. There’s truth and value to owning blemishes and imperfections but it’s a hard balance to strike. Who out there is confident enough to strut their acne and NOT prefer to cover it up? I wish that were me. However, in embracing the new rage for natural beauty—and because my oily skin makes it difficult for foundation really to have any staying power (a post on that later)—I decided to work on my skin itself, instead of finding the perfect blanket for it to hide under.

Before I go into the details of what I did to clear my skin, I would like to say that, as far as my limited knowledge of acne is concerned, there are two main types that I’ve ever had to deal with. Hormonal acne and “oops that’s my own fault” acne, which is acne that comes from my poor diet, stressing myself out, and not being careful about washing my face. I’ve been lucky enough mostly to encounter the latter and rarely ever experience hormonal acne, so the products and routines I go through will not work for anyone, nor will they necessarily achieve the same results. But if you’re an oily skinned, acne prone, Asian college student with a propensity towards late night snacking and a love for junk food, this might work for you.

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The Cleanser:

I’ll spare you from the “clogged pores lead to acne!” spiel and assume that if you’re reading this, you at least have the intention to wash your face regularly and remove your makeup before you go to bed. I double cleanse, and the current acne-fighting cleanser I’m using right now is Pan Oxyl’s Acne Foaming Wash. It’s incredibly strong, since it has benzoyl peroxide 10% and I would strongly advise against using it twice a day. Or even every day (though I often go through periods of time where I do). You should use it AFTER you’ve removed all your makeup, because it’s main purpose is drying out acne, not cleansing. When I came back from studying abroad in Italy last summer, I had an entire cheek of breakouts. This fantastic cleanser (available at most drugstores) cleared most of them in a week.

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The Scrub:

I asked my roommate to pick up Lush’s Dark Angels Scrub for me when she went home for spring break and then immediately got buyer’s remorse when I checked my bank account. Lush always hurts my wallet a little bit, but they have the right to. This charcoal scrub smooths, detoxifies, and cleanses skin fantastically and is one of my most important products in fighting acne. I use it twice a week, though if you have very sensitive skin I would use it less than that. The only downside is that it can be a bit messy and leaves black streaks on your face occasionally.

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The Mask:

This is already a cult favorite, and for a reason. The Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay has been touted as the world’s most powerful mask, has seen the transformations of hundreds of acne-ridden faces, and in general, lives up to the hype. I use it with apple cider vinegar, as suggested, and apply it once to twice a week. When I first bought it, I went a bit crazy and used it every single night for a week (would not recommend). That was the best my skin has ever looked….but it also hurt. So, again, for those of you with sensitive skin, I would keep it to once or twice a week.

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The Toner:

Another product I wouldn’t recommend using twice a day, simply due to how potent (and effective) it is, is Glossier Solution. I use two pumps on a cotton pad at night and swipe it over my face. Because of the AHA and BHA, it’s mildly exfoliating (and tingles a bit the first few times) and has evened out the texture and tone of my skin fantastically. My acne was already on the road to vanishing, but this really cleared up the rest.

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The Oil:

“How long is this post, Ella?” Beauty takes time, alright? After all of those acne fighting products, I need something to nourish my skin and protect it from dehydration. Rosehip oil is perfect for this, as it’s soothing, hydrating, and nourishing. It’s proclaimed as an acne deterrent as well, though I hadn’t really noticed that. This product plumps and smooths my skin overnight and yes, finally, I do in fact use it every day, twice a day.

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The Obvious:

Water. I can already hear the collective groan. I started drinking 90 oz of water a day and the only con was that I was running to the bathroom every fifteen minutes. I don’t know that it absolutely-for-certain will defeat your hormonal acne, but it certainly takes my post-junk-food-party acne down a notch. Also literally no one will ever tell you being hydrated is bad for you. Moisture is the essence of wetness and wetness is the essence of beauty. There you go.

 

There you have all the acne-fighting products on my skincare arsenal. While that’s a far cry from all the products I use (yes, I left out three cleansers, some serums, a mask or two, and all my moisturizers) they are a (current) staple in my skincare routine. And no, I haven’t very found a good spot treatment that gets rid of acne bumps overnight, nor do I think they’re really that great in the long run. My skin’s in a pretty good place right now, so I’m rotating out my anti-acne products for other gentler products, both to give my skin a break and to prevent it from acclimating to these. Again, this has been my own personal experience with combating acne and is not a universal prescription for clear, smooth skin.

Have any miracle acne products you’ve used? We’d love to hear from you!

 

–Ella Liu

From the Diary of a Sunscreen Addict

Some people collect stamps, others collect lovers. And then there are the skincare fiends like me who amass sunscreen like nobody’s business.

With summer in full throttle, there’s no better time to slather this melanoma-preventing, anti-aging goop. Before I share my favorites from my collection, here are a few things to keep in mind:

You need to wear sunscreen EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Yes, summer is the most fitting time to start, but the sun still exists for the other three seasons.

Melanin doesn’t protect you. “But Amanda, you’re brown. You don’t need sunscreen,” says everyone. Yes, my having more melanin does mean I have some natural protection, but that doesn’t mean I’m 100% protected from the sun. The sun doesn’t care if I’m brown or white or black or green . . . it’s still going to shine its damaging rays.

Don’t skimp. For the average adult, a shot glass-full of sunscreen should be the minimum for his or her body (this is about two tablespoons). For the face, anything less than a nickel-sized amount is NOT enough. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t apply generously – an SPF 30 is only an SPF 30 if you apply the recommended amounts.

Ask your dermatologist or aesthetician for sunscreen recommendations, but until then, check out my latest favorites!

Body:

The Supergoop! Everyday Broad Spectrum SPF 50 has been a mainstay in my collection for the past couple of months. And yes, I bought the 18-ounce bottle – the size encourages me to apply liberally on both my body and face. Since it contains a cocktail of essential oils, this formula is very moisturizing. Even though I have oily-combination skin, I’ll still apply this on my face; I just use oil-blotting sheets to sop up excess shine. I’m left with a beautiful glow and a protected face!

With its coconut-banana-beach scent, the Sun Bum Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 smells like quintessential summer! Enriched with vitamin E, this sunscreen will moisturize and protect your skin from harmful free radicals (which speed up the aging process).

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Face:

As established earlier, I’m a brown girl. This means that finding sunscreen that don’t leave a white cast can be . . . exhausting. One of the few I’ve found that doesn’t leave me looking ashy or gray is the Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50. It takes a while for me to rub in completely, but afterwards, my complexion looks perfected.

My Holy Grail face sunscreen is the EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46 – Tinted. It has a tint that blends seamlessly into my skin as well as a high zinc percentage. Also, it doesn’t leave me greasy! My only complaint is that it doesn’t come in a bigger size!

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Miscellaneous:

A habit I’ve been trying to form this year is being more diligent about sunscreen reapplication. The Ulta SPF 50 Sunscreen Rose Water Setting Spray has been a great product for this habit: it sets and refreshes makeup while giving a little bit of extra protection. It also delivers a beautiful, non-greasy glow for when my skin looks dull.

If I am combatting mid-day grease, I turn to the Ilia Moondance powder. It fights the oil spill on my forehead while also offering SPF 20. Bonus: the packaging makes this powder so easy to throw in my bag for on-the-go application.

Most people – myself included – forget to apply SPF on their lips. Thankfully, Sun Bum offers an array of SPF-packed lip products, including this Sunscreen Lip Balm SPF 30. My favorite is the watermelon flavor, but I’m looking forward to trying the pineapple, key lime, and mango ones!

 

–Amanda Cordero

The Art of Practicing Self-Care…Cheaply

I moved recently to Austin for the summer. While it’s been great (read: hipster coffee shops galore), this is also my first time living truly on my own. I’ve lived for eighteen years with my family, and when I went off to university, I had the wonderful experience of living in a tight-knit residential college. I’ve always been around people, and I love it.

Living in Austin has been my first experience of living alone. As an extrovert, this transition has been radical . . . and difficult. I’m also processing some recent emotional upheaval, so I’ve had to practice self-care frequently. Below are a few of the things I’ve been doing (on the cheap!) to take better of myself:

Taking time to lose myself in a book (preferably one from the library). At the beginning of the year, I made the commitment to read for a half hour every day. Even though I study literature in school, I’ve used this commitment to discover new books on my own. I’m currently reading Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams.

Aside from enriching my literary taste, I always leave my hour feeling satisfied that I’ve done something concrete to help myself. The small victories count! Other books I’ve read and loved this summer include Landline by Rainbow Rowell, Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve by Lenora Chu, and the entire Harry Potter saga.

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Moisturizing. Don’t roll your eyes at this. If you know me, you know that I love, love, LOVE having super soft skin. And I’m guessing that if you’re reading this beauty and lifestyle blog, you probably have a tub or bottle of lotion somewhere. Take the time to slather some on and notice yourself.

I’ve upped my moisturizing game by using sweet almond oil or coconut fig-scented lotion. Another pro tip is to place your moisturizer in the refrigerator for a few hours – perfect for a hot summer day!

Seeking light. This year, I’ve become obsessed with the idea of light, how it affects my mood, and how I can harness it for my benefit. For example, when I need to feel productive or happy, I’ll go to places with massive windows and just sit there – my local Starbucks and Austin’s Faulk Central Library are perfect. When I need to prepare my body for sleep, I’ll turn off all the lights but keep on my crystal salt lamp. It provides the soft ambience to settle my body in for the night. While light isn’t on everyone’s mood radar, pay attention to where and when you feel the happiest and seek those places and moments.

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Communing with nature. I’m lucky that Austin is a city that loves nature. When I really need to check out emotionally, I’ll run by Lady Bird Johnson Lake. Google “hiking trails near me” to discover your local hidden gems. And pro tip: I like going early in the morning A) to avoid the worst of Texas heat and B) to set some good vibes for the day.

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Reaching out to people. I’ve been more aware that much of this sad feeling stems from loneliness. A friend of mine recently told me that she is adamant about not having a “phone relationship” with people, so she’s been building a habit of meeting with people face-to-face. While that’s not always possible for me, I try to FaceTime or call loved ones as opposed to just sending them texts. More often than not, many of my friends feel the same way I do and are equally happy to talk. Reaching out to people has been a practice of recognizing that while reaching out can seem inconvenient for both parties, it’s a beautiful and necessary practice of community and happiness.

Building small habits. My mother will tell you that she wishes I flossed more. And because I love my mother and my gums, I’ve been building the habit of flossing every night. Building habits like these aren’t always fun, but I’ve been reminding myself that ultimately, I’m winning. Try going for walk a few times a week, incorporating more vegetables in your meals, or making it a point to shut off your phone for a few hours each week. Small habits like this build up in the long run!

Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or trendy – really, it all boils down to being aware of your emotions and taking proactive steps!

 

— Amanda Cordero

Introductions: New Editors

Novel Nests rears its head from it’s homework-ensconced cave to bring you two new editors: Amanda Cordero and Anna Lam! We’re so excited to have these two join our tiny team and can’t wait to see how they’ll contribute in the future.

@amandace1904

Hey, y’all! I’m Amanda, a Texas native with Filipino roots! My style – both in beauty and fashion – can be encapsulated in the phrase girl-next-door. But while I do love a simple and classic look, my friends will tell you that I’m a fiend when it comes to skincare. While other girls were freaking out over the Jonas Brothers and their crushes, I was reading dermatologist books and hunting for tips and secrets on the Internet.

But the biggest thing I’ve learned is to appreciate the influence culture has on beauty.  As an Asian-American, I approach beauty from a dual culture lens. I’ve come to appreciate more global take on beauty and skincare. From French girl je ne sais quoi to Korean diligence and everything in between, every beauty lover around the world has a tip or trick to share! My posts here will hopefully share a little bit of my knowledge with you!

@annahlam

Hi! My name is Anna! I’m an earth-lover, ethical vegetarian, and classics nerd. I’m no fashionista, and my tastes have changed a lot through the years, but I tend to like anything urban chic, i.e. clean lines, mostly monochromatic and well-tailored, or neutral-toned minimalist ensembles. I’m also recovering from a pretty intense grunge phase, which I am currently not seeking medical attention for (I’m still unhealthily obsessed with Kristen Stewart’s devil-may-care fashion sense).

However, my tastes aren’t just informed by my aesthetic sensibilities, but also by my views on sustainability and fair trade. I like to shop second-hand when possible and am always trying to make more responsible purchasing decisions. This is partly related to why I’m vegetarian, but I also see my desire to both purchase and consume responsibly as originating from the way I was raised. As an Asian-American, my parents always stressed the importance of saving and managing time and resources responsibly. Therefore, I like to think about the ways fashion, food choices, and lifestyle can all fight wastefulness and change our behavior as consumers.