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Gift Lab: Soup & Sandwich Tray

February 10, 2012

Background Research
The Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo is an UncommonGoods classic with a glowing reputation. Based on photos and reviews, it is the perfect size for a classic tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich. Customers have left comments describing the innovative meals they have served on the tray such as cereal with a muffin and cake with ice cream.

Hypothesis
My idea of a comforting meal to warm up cold bellies on a January day is an Italian alternative. I hypothesize my favorite meal of spicy tomato & chickpea soup with Stromboli will fit just as perfectly on the Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo.

The Experiment
Sunday January 15, perhaps the coldest day so far since last winter. The wind is howling outside and there is nothing my boyfriend Mark and I would rather do than turn up the heat and have a movie marathon.

In the freezer are two servings of tomato and chickpea soup, a simple crock pot recipe that I made two weeks prior. It’s a thick soup that I spiced up with a lot of cayenne pepper and paprika and saved for such a chilly occasion. I have the ingredients to make my mom’s famous Stromboli– a favorite from my childhood. I roll the Stromboli, put it in the oven and heat the soup on the stove.

While the food is cooking, I take my Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo from its box to clean. I am surprised at the weight of the plate and bowl- it’s very sturdy and larger than I imagined. I especially appreciate that the plate and bowl are not attached and nest on top of each other for easy storage, a huge bonus for this apartment dweller. The bowl is very big and deep, I don’t know if I could ever eat that much soup!

The soup is warm and the Stromboli is baked to cheesy, oozy perfection. Although my Stromboli slices are not the size or shape of a grilled cheese, they fit better on the plate than I predicted. Mark and I sit at the table for a couple of minutes enjoying the convenience of eating soup and Stromboli from the same tray. When it comes time for a soup refill, we are grateful that we can take the bowls and not travel with the entire tray.

We decide it is time to put on The Big Lebowski and take our trays to the sofa. I dread eating on the sofa because it’s usually so messy but the  tray fits so perfectly on my lap, its size and weight make it a sturdy and level table. Since the bowl is so large, it only needs to be filled halfway to provide a healthy serving so spilling is not a concern. We can eat without crumbs or spilling while laughing at The Dude.

Conclusion
My hypothesis proved true, a meal slightly alternative to grilled cheese and classic tomato soup fit on the Soup & Sandwich Tray Duo. In addition, the tray proved to store well in a cabinet and create a spill-free sofa experience. I can’t stop thinking about all of my favorite recipes that can be served on the tray…

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Baby Carrier Cover

February 8, 2012

Alina Maturu, age 4 months, on assignment for UncommonGoods
As told to Swati Parikh

Gift Lab: Baby Carrier Cover

Background Research:

My mommy and I love to go for walks in our neighborhood. Every day she dresses me in a bunch of layers to keep me warm, straps me into a carrier and we set off on our daily adventure. I love going for walks and falling asleep while we’re out. The problem is that I hate putting on that winter bearsuit

– even though I’m super cute in it, it makes me all hot and sweaty and my mom gets sweaty too. So I whine and cry every time she puts it on me and we struggle to get out the door. And my mommy can’t zip up her coat around me, so she’s cold once we get outside too.

Hypothesis:
A carrier cover is just what we need. It will keep me and my mommy nice and warm and we’ll get to avoid the hassle of putting on a bunch of layers before leaving the house.

Experiment:
It’s been a fairly warm winter this year, but I finally got to see my first real snow storm in January. It was the perfect day to test out the carrier cover. We first watched this little video to figure out how to put it on:

Once we had it in place, with the proper strings pulled tight, we set off for an adventure in the snow to see how warm we would be in the cover.

Results:
It works! As my mom likes to say, the carrier keeps me “snug as a bug in a rug.” All I have to wear is this cute little onesie, pants and a sweater. No bearsuit. No crying. Once we get inside my mommy easily slips it off and I stay asleep the whole time.

My mommy also feels much warmer with the cover and feels like she was wearing another layer but not overheating. Her neck and chest are still exposed to the cold air, but she solves this problem by wearing a scarf with it. The cover is a little bulky, but once she puts her coat on over it we look like a cute cozy pair.

And daddy likes it too. Did I mention he has the coolest job in the world? He works at UncommonGoods.

Alina’s Wardrobe: I Love My Microscope Onesie, $25.

Alina’s Baby Carrier Cover: $69 at UncommonGoods.

Gift Guides

Nerd Pride Gift Guide

January 19, 2012

Some of you got in touch after our email went out yesterday, pointing out that we could’ve been more inclusive in our definition of nerd. We definitely appreciate the feedback.

Thing is, we have a bit of a confession to make. Many of us have been looking forward to this email for weeks– men and women alike. See the thing is we are all pretty nerdy, and were pretty excited to share our extreme enthusiasm with you.

So here’s a gift guide for all the geeks, know-it-alls, and nerdy ladies and gents in your life.

The Art Nerd

One of our photographers, Adam, made an interesting revelation recently. He and his wife are part of a folk band that celebrates the lives of fine artists. Here they are, commiserating the fate of Camille Claudel to the tune of Man of Constant Sorrow.

For Adam, we recommend the Make Your Own Recorder Kit— which combines his love of art and music into one.

The Science Fiction Fan

Christine, our fabulous HR recruiter, loves to surprise people when she tells them she loves science fiction. “I’m from Brooklyn! People never expect me to like Star Trek or the Twilight Zone, but I do!”

For Christine, and others, who love the final frontier, we recommend our collection of space-themed home decor:

The Moon Clock
Silver Flying Saucer Bowl
And a Ray Gun Pen for the office

That futuristic ’60s chrome style just never gets old.

The Book Worm

And me? I just checked my Goodreads account and was startled to realize I’d read 50 books totaling 17,654 pages last year. And let’s not go into how many volumes I picked up from my neighborhood bookstores. I might have to admit that I have a book problem.

Luckily I know just what will support my habit.

Leaning Ladies Bookends
Biblioteca Bookshelf
Literary iPhone4 cases
(My favorite book in that group: The Great Gatsby)

iPhones of course bring us to the other nerd– the Geek.

We had a big debate here at UncommonGoods HQ about the difference between a geek and a nerd. Luckily, Cassie our community moderator (how appropriate!), settled things with this infographic:

Full image available at GeeksAreSexy.

Jess, our graphic designer, won the geek honors, saying that she and her partner own a collective of:

(2) iPhone 4
(2) iMac
MacBook Pro
iPad
Mac mini
AirPort Extreme
(2) Magic Mouse
Magic Trackpad
Wireless Keyboard

With all that technology, she said she’d appreciate the simplicity of a Wood iPhone Camera Case.

But let’s not end things here. Gaby, our Community Assistant, and Brian, our Marketing Director, are history buffs (Classical Greek & Civil War respectively). Cassie loves Marvel superheroes. Nerds come in all colors. What’s your nerd pride?

Gift Guides

Top 10 Valentine’s Day Gifts for Guys

January 18, 2012

Valentine’s Day is coming up, and while chocolates and flowers are nice, we know that some fellas would probably prefer valentines that can’t be devoured and won’t wilt in a few days. These great gifts for guys are uncommon ways to show the special man in your life just how lovable he is.

Custom Map Cufflinks
If there’s a place close to his heart, you can help him wear it on his sleeve. Whether it’s the place you first met, a landmark where you shared a romantic moment, or another special location, these custom map cufflinks are an elegant gift with a personal touch.

Titanium Multi-tool Collar Stays
Perfect for the dashing gentleman, who isn’t afraid to use his hands, Titanium Multi-tool Collar Stays each feature a half-phillips screwdriver, a slotted screwdriver, a thread cutter, and a bottle opener. Thanks to these sleek little gadgets, your Mr. Fix-it doesn’t have to sacrifice style.

Ball Park Color Top Pens
Maybe you’ve had a great times at a ballgames together, or maybe he’s just a huge fan of a certain team. Either way, this gift is sure to be a home run. Made from the wood from salvaged stadium seats, these pens are officially licensed Major League Baseball collectibles. Each also includes a certificate of authenticity.

The Buck Stops Here Money Clip
Cash might not be a traditional Valentine’s Day gift, but a stylish way to stash that cash is definitely acceptable. Featuring a vintage 1984 twenty-cent commemorative stamp, this money clip tells him that your search for your one-and-only is over. The buck has stopped, and your relationship is right on the money.

Seven Deadly Sins Shot Glasses
Maybe he’s a bad boy, and you’re okay with that. Giving him this set of seven sinfully delightful shot glasses tells him that you like his wild side.

Cast Iron Tool Bottle Openers
Although they look and feel like the real deal, these cast iron tools are actually hand-forged bottle openers. If your guy is handy with a hammer, ready with a wrench, or prepared with pliers, let him know you appreciate his DIY home repairs and can-do attitude with a tool he can use as he kicks back and relaxes while enjoying a bottle of his favorite beverage.

Wood Tie
He has everything you look for in a partner. A sense of humor, great style, and he isn’t afraid to be a little different. Sure, silk ties are nice, but a wood tie is a way to show him that you really do like his uncommon look.

Fire Hose Wallet
Made from retired fire hoses, these sturdy wallets are a clever way to show your guy that he’s your hero.

Frog Prince Paperweight
You knew that one day your prince would come. Now that he has, you can thank him for giving you your very own storybook ending with this pewter paperweight. Of course, your Prince Charming wears many hats–so why shouldn’t he have fun changing the crown on his?

Pick Punch
You could give him a gift card…OR you could give him a device to help him actually use the leftover plastic when he’s spent the gift cards he got for Christmas. The Pick Punch® cuts functional guitar picks from credit cards, gift cards, and similar sheets of thin plastic, so it’s a great way to show your Valentine that he rocks.



Looking for more gift ideas for the ones you love? Check out our Top 10 Gifts for Husbands, Gifts for Boyfriends, Gifts for Wives, and Gifts for Girlfriends.

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: A Paw Print is Forever

January 11, 2012

The first time I saw the Paw Prints Keepsake Frame, I knew I needed to have it! The only problem? I have 5 cats! How am I to choose the lucky kitty that gets their paw print hung on the Wall of Fame?!

Background Research:

Meet my 5 wunderkitties, in order from oldest to youngest:

Fatty
What a docile, wonderful orange blob of a cat. He appeared outside my house on the night of my 16th birthday and never left (best present EVER)!

Pixie

Our neurotic sweetheart, and the only female in the bunch. Joined the household when I moved back home after freshman year of college.

Lynard & Skynard

Brothers! My best friend and I brought them home to foster in the beginning of the summer of 2007. I am still “fostering” them, haha.

And last, but certainly not least…..Buddy!

I adopted Buddy last April from the Animal Care & Control Center in Brooklyn. He is absolutely insane, but that is why he is awesome.

I have to pay homage to Harley. Harley was my first cat, joined the family when I was 11 years old. He passed away 3 years ago, but he’ll always be the king of our jungle.

How does one choose which paw to take a print of? Well, it was actually easy to choose.

Hypothesis:

Fatty is the oldest of the bunch, and the most cooperative. My thoughts are that he will be the easiest to get a steady paw print from. Getting the paw print and putting together this frame might require some extra time to get just right since a live animal is involved in the process, but it will be well worth the memory that is being created.

Experiment:

This project looks easy, but looks are very deceiving. When opening the dough package, it subsequently stuck to the inside of the package it came in and it took a good 5 minutes to get all of it out of the package, along with out from under my fingernails.

The rolling pin that this product came with is a tiny cylindrical piece of wood that you cannot even grip, and the dough gets stuck on when you try to use it. I had to use my mom’s good cooking rolling pin instead.

Getting this dough into the right shape and having the right consistency was not fun. It took about 20 minutes to get it to the right shape and size, and to get any air bubbles out. I was not satisfied with the first (second or third) prints that I took, so I needed to roll the dough out again and… and AGAIN.

Finally, on the fourth attempt, I got the golden paw print! My Fatty was not as happy as I was at this point, but after some smooshy hairy kisses, he was fine.

Conclusion:

The end result, in my opinion, is certainly worth the effort and work that has to be put in to obtain the paw print.

I will treasure this print for the rest of my life and always have it hanging on my wall. I will certainly be getting the rest of my kitties’ paw prints at some point in the future and more of these frames to put them in!

The Paw Prints Keepsake Frame is $30.

Gift Guides

Tip: Use Socks to Disguise Your Christmas Gifts

December 21, 2011

When I was a kid, my brothers and I would love to try to guess what our folks got us for Christmas. With so many mysterious treasures under the tree, taunting us, we couldn’t help but lift, shake, and squeeze them in hopes of guessing their contents. Okay, the truth is, we still do it.

Cassie, Luke, and Beau, 1993
Much to our dismay, my mom is an expert at making sure that her gift selections stay under wraps until Christmas. She has put rocks in boxes to throw off the weight, stashed tiny gifts in giant boxes, wrapped notes explaining that the gifts were actually somewhere else (e.g. “Look in the closet for your real gift”), among many other tricks. One of the sneakiest ways she’s gotten me, and yes, I’ve been fooled by this more than once, was the good ol’ sock trick–with new socks, of course.

The sock trick is an easy way to disguise an easily guessable gift. It’s also a way to get away with giving kids socks for Christmas. You’ll just need a few pairs of socks, wrapping paper, tape, and ribbon.

First, figure out how many pairs of socks it will take to cover your gift. The 100 Shapes Stencil Book is pretty small, just over 7 x 7 inches and about 1/2 an inch thick, so I used four pairs of socks to make my gift package extra cushy.

Wrap the socks around the gift, making sure that the “padding” covers both sides. If you keep the pairs together, you’ll get a little extra cushion.

Once the gift is hidden in socks, you can continue wrapping as usual. I start by placing the gift on the paper, then cutting off the amount I’ll need. I tend to stick to a simple wrapping technique. I fold the sides of the paper over the gift, tape, and fold the ends up toward the middle before taping again. I also finish it off with a simple a bow.

If you’re looking to get fancy with your wrapping technique, you can get some tips from a pro by checking out our How to Wrap a Gift Box and How to Tie a Gift Bow videos.

When you’re finished, the present will be nice and squishy, so the recipient will probably think they’re getting a sweater, decorative holiday towels, or something else less fun than the awesome gift you really picked out for them. And they get some bonus socks.

What’s your favorite way to disguise a gift? Have you ever been tricked by a sneaky gifter? We’d love to hear how! Share your sneaking gifting stories in the comments below.

Gift Guides

5 Tips for Giving Gift Cards

December 20, 2011

(image courtesy of Presents; Ev0luti0nary)

I love getting gift cards but giving one sometimes feels like a last minute and impersonal gesture. But with some savvy, gift cards have the potential to be a thoughtful and memorable gift. Here are some ways to give a gift card that will make it look like a well-planned present.

Give an experience Think outside of the mall. Most businesses give gift cards nowadays so pick some place original. Try a new restaurant, wine store, housecleaning service, indoor rock climbing- get creative. It might be nice to take a break from shopping after the holiday season.

Pick a pretty card It might be an obvious notion that a gift card should be given inside another card but which card makes a difference. Take the time to find something more personal. Stay away from a mass-made card and choose a handmade design.

Add some candy Everything is sweeter with candy on top. Giving sweets with your gift card will give your friends something they can enjoy right away without spending too much more.

Include a list of potential gifts Before purchasing a gift card, take a look around the store or website and take note of the items that you thought your loved one might like. Seeing your picks will let them know you were thinking about them and could make their shopping a little easier.

Make a shopping date You just gave the gift of shopping so make it a special time. Plan on a shopping outing to spend holiday gift cards or celebrate a night at home with movies, popcorn and your favorite online shopping sites.

Gift Guides

How To Tie a Gift Bow

December 14, 2011

You’ve finished your holiday shopping; now it’s time to wrap up all the gifts. But don’t worry! Here are a few tips to turn a basic gift box and ribbon into a present fit to be placed under any tree:

Think you’ve mastered the bow tie? Here are a few more tips to refine your technique:

1. Pick The Right Ribbon

The width of the ribbon will depend on the size of the box. On smaller boxes I would use widths ranging from .25”-.5”. For medium boxes .5”-1”, and for larger boxes 1”-1.5”.

2. Vary The Texture

Textures range from satin, grosgrain, organdy, and some even have flowers on them. It depends on the look that you are going for.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Mess Up

There’s so much you can do with ribbon. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

If you aren’t satisfied with your bow, you can start over using the same ribbon. Just make sure to line up the ribbon but the placement when doing the ribbon over must be precise. Meaning, you have to make sure you’re tying the ribbon in the same exact spots or you will see creases in the ribbon. If you think you cut the wrong length, start with a fresh piece of ribbon. It’s not like you’ll have to throw out a crumpled sheet of wrapping paper!

Got a gift wrapping question? Just ask in the comments below.

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