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Gift Lab: The Perfect Wingman

October 29, 2012

Let’s just say I’m a bar guy. Want to see my friends? I go to a bar. Want to watch a baseball game? Bar. Play Jenga? Well, you get the idea. But, how do you stay lubricated in between a barhop? With a flask!

Being a design-focused guy, however, made me very judgmental of most flasks. Your local liquor store usually has flasks that an ex-con named “Spyder” would appreciate. Not exactly my style. So, I’ve been on the lookout for a good flask for a very long time.

Research:

The flask was actually recommended to me by a friend of mine, Leah Bourne, editor at Stylecaster’s The Vivant, a luxury and lifestyle blog. I immediately took a liking to it. It’s not so obvious to say “hey, look at me! I’m a writer/photographer/owner of a free-range, grass-fed, localvore farm that offers free massages and tucks in each of its cattle individually each night.” But, it has some subtle humor with the wingman vibe.

Hypothesis:
As pouring liquor into a flask is not exactly rocket science, my hypothesis was more about social acceptability than function. So, the question to test is: will people think I’m a crazy loon when they see a bespectacled, nerdy-looking guy whipping out a flask in a bar, and on a successions of stoops in the stroller mecca called Park Slope? Will they think he is even loonier when he strikes up a conversation about data and statistics as he swigs from his flask full of bourbon?

Experiment:

Step 1: Fill the flask with Bulleit Bourbon.

Step 2: Meet Leah at Barbe’s, a local watering hole in Park Slope.

Step 3: Engage in a little stoop drinking.

Step 4: Have the flask take me to Talde, a restaurant and bar nearby. (Remember, as Seinfeld’s Kramer says, “I’m not going to Sardi’s, the Tony is taking me to Sardi’s.”)

Step 5: Break out the flask! It helped me supercharge a Moscow Mule.

Results:

The bartenders were remarkably tolerant of the flask! That was unexpected. And the stroller-chasers of Park Slope? Too busy replaying their Dora the Explorer videos in a desperate attempt to put the kids to bed to notice. However, the in-depth discussion of polynomial regressions did confuse a few passers-by.

Conclusion:
A big hit! The flask will be very useful for barhops/concerts/weddings/bar mitzvahs/Tuesday afternoons. It will especially help dull the pain of watching daytime TV when I wait for the doctor or dentist.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Pizza Cones Kit

October 23, 2012

Research
I have lived in Brooklyn my whole life, so I know myself a good slice of pizza when I see one. With what seems like another pizzeria on every other corner, I have also tried many types and styles of the delicious and cheesy treat. Slices, squares, thin crust, deep dish, on a bagel, on an english muffin, with toppings or plain. I thought I had seen and eaten it all.

I was wrong. I must eat what few pizza-lovers have ever eaten before – the pizza cone.

Hypothesis
Pizza is already awesome. I predict that mixing things up with a new shape will only make pizza more awesome.

The Experiment
I started by assembling everything necessary to make my pizza cone:

  • the Pizza Cone Kit
  • Dough – The set comes with instructions to make you’re own. I bought mine from a local pizzeria for $4.
  • Cheese
  • Sauce
  • Optional toppings
  • Flour for working with the dough
  • A rolling pin

The pizza cone set comes with the tools necessary to cut and shape the dough so that you can roll it into a cone. This is my first time working with fresh dough and it feels so right. I think I was born to play a part in this evolution of the pizza. Just look at my hands go:

Next, I had the need to knead. As per the included instructions, I wanted a flat piece of dough measuring about an 1/8 of an inch all around. The dough should be wide enough to cut out two bell-shaped molds that would form two pizza cones.

Once you have the initial pieces cut, you fold them over in half and crimp the edges sealed. You leave the bottoms unsealed so that you can later place them over the pizza cone form. I used the included crimper tool to finish the job.


My expectations were rising as I prepared the dough to go into the oven for the first time. I carefully placed my creation onto the pizza cone form (which is made of no-stick materials).

After 6-7 minutes of baking, the dough was starting to brown. I removed them from the oven and let them cool before removing them from the pizza cone forms and placing them upright in the pizza cone stands. I brought over the rest of the ingredients and got to work filling the cones with sauce, cheese, and other toppings (sliced pepperoni in the pictures). Like an artist finishing his masterpiece, I used my spoon to splash sauce along the inner walls of the cone. I sprinkled cheese throughout until it filled up completely. I cleverly hid pepperonis in any unused pockets of air.

After a few more minutes in the oven, right up until the insides start bubbling, I was able to meet my creation.

Conclusion
I was wary at first. However, I have confirmed that the deliciousness of pizza has no bounds. Pizza cones are a fun new way to eat pizza, especially during the upcoming winter, when ice cream cones are just not as practical. I approve.

Dexter has volunteered as the next test subject when I run this experiment again.
Gift Guides

Gift Lab: DIY Lip Balm Kit

October 15, 2012


Research:
I am a total lip balm addict, as is our entire family. I have two on my desk at work, a few stashed in my bag, and always one in the car. The thing about my lip balm is, frankly, I do not like to share, and therefore I can never have enough of fresh sticks or tins of fresh balm on hand!

Hypothesis:
I am thinking that since I am a creature of habit and typically buy the same flavors, making my own lip balm with the DIY Lip Balm Kit will give me an opportunity to experiment with a different range of scents; and since everything is provided for us it should be fool proof!

Experiment:
I knew my 12-year-old daughter Tea was super excited to experiment with me and could not wait to open the box and check out the contents. We decided to make a variety of flavors instead of 6 tins of the same flavor, so we raided our cabinets for essential oils and found a few interesting base scents. The kit comes with peppermint, so we opted for the peppermint, our tangerine oil, and added a chocolate oil to the peppermint (for the “never yet seen on any store shelf”) chocolate-peppermint lip balm.

Everything is well labeled in the kit and very organized and the instructions were very easy to follow. Basically all that was needed was a scale, a few mixing cups, a spoon, and a double boiler. It was very nice to see the cards had details on all the ingredients – informative and educational.

We wanted a “plain” balm first, so we threw all the ingredients to melt together–basically beeswax, cocoa butter, and sunflower oil–let that melt and filled the first tin with the unscented mix. There are really clear instructions on how to get the balm to be smooth on the top, and what to do if it coagulates.

Since we were doing a variety of flavors, we had to plan out the best way to achieve our assortment, and it seemed like the best way was to just mix the plain base with the oil right in the little tins.

We discovered that if you add too much essential oil, it becomes too strong and can burn your lips, so in this case less is more, as the natural oils are very concentrated.

Next came the peppermint, and since this was our last base flavor, we added peppermint right to the boiler, and mixed it well. After we filled the tins with peppermint, we added some chocolate to the nearly empty boiler, making our last mixture of chocolate peppermint.

The instructions recommended a curing/hardening period of a few hours. In the meantime Tea labeled the tins so we could be ready for action when the balms were set.


Conclusion:
This was a super fun, easy activity that was basically fool proof. We over-scented one tin but found you could dilute the mix by added more wax/base… so all in all it was very fun, we achieved great results and had a lot of fun doing this together! I was very happy to have all the instructions ingredients provided for us, and know that if we want to continue another time, we just need to seek the ingredients. We still have the tins and the recipe, and the know-how; I am sure we’ll give it another try and even experiment with some more flavors next time!

Gift Guides

The Three Little Pigs: An Uncommon Story

October 3, 2012

Once upon a time our buyers discovered a collection of whimsical children’s accessories from Jen List and Stacy Waddington. The short version is that we fell head over heels in love with these handmade upcycled fabric pieces and lived happily ever after. Of course, as in every fairy tale, there’s a little more to the story. So without further ado, the first chapter of our Storybook Collection, The Three Little Pigs.

But story time isn’t over just yet. The tale continues in chapter two: Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Gift Guides

Top Picks from a Tech Guy: Our Systems Admin’s Favorite Goods

September 24, 2012

Greetings! My name is Jonathan, and I am currently on the Sysadmin team here at UncommonGoods. Around this time of the year, my team and I work extra hard to make sure your gift giving and receiving experience are the best you have ever had. But in the midst of all this preparation we still manage to play with the some of the many cool toys and gadgets we carry. Here are a few of my favorites.

Cube LED Alarm Clock
In Technology you can find just about anything to fit your needs even if your needs are to just to be woken up on time. This alarm clock keeps things simple. It serves its main purpose as an alarm clock and it’s aesthetically pleasing to boot. This battery powered box can be placed anywhere! No, really, you can put it anywhere without the worry finding a power source. So far this little box has woken me up out of my bed and onto my favorite part of the morning, the coffee part.
Wooden Gizmos

Mini Wooden Speaker
I like to listen to music at work, and usually I just go with my earbuds. But sometimes the whole tech team agrees that we need some background music. In that case, this little speaker is great.

MaKey MaKey
Even if you’re a beginner to the world of microcontrollers, you should be able to grasp the concept of this little device. Anything can be turned into a controller (no really, anything) with just a little bit of creativity. So far we have made buttons and triggers from simple objects such as marshmallows, fruit, doormats, doorknobs, cups of water, ink, and just about anything else we could find lying around. This is a great tool for children and adults alike who want to tinker with electronics without the risks of real power or breaking the device itself. I recommend this product to my fellow gamers, tech enthusiasts or anyone who likes to play with well, anything.



Message Stamp Kit
Let’s face it, birthdays are happening all around us. So if you have a stamp to say happy birthday for you–why not?! If you’re like me and have trouble finding the time (or space on the card with those good-wishes-packed company birthday cards going around the office all the time) to scribble a little something for someone on their birthday then this gift is for you. Sure, it would be easy for me to just send an email from my desk–but this feels a little more personal and it is just as easy. This handy box has helped me with greeting cards for birthdays, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs and those monthly letters to the in-laws. This kit contains the all-in-one emergency sentiments you could ever need; it can even go as far as calling it a Swiss Army sentiment box.

Mushroom Kit
Another non-gadget pick, but perfect for many tech department offices. We aren’t quite in the basement, but we don’t have a lot of natural light. I’ve been meaning to get one of these, because windows or none, it will be nice to get something to grow in our work space. (Especially something we’ll get to eat in a few weeks!)




If you like Jonathan’s picks, don’t forget to check out our other gadgets and tools.