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The Uncommon Life

10 Tips for a Sustainable Summer Party with Bekuh of Secondhand Sundays

July 23, 2012

Hello there friends! My name is Bekuh and I’m the creative type behind the blog Secondhand Sundays; my personal blog filled with pretty vintage wares, delicious home cooked meals, crafty handmade goods, and life as a newlywed in Virginia. Most days you’ll find me playing in my studio or outside on the porch with my husband, and our pup Nellie. There is nothing we love to do more than be outside together.

I also love to use seemingly random holidays as an excuse to invite friends onto our porch to dine alfresco for an evening. On Bastille Day this year we threw a grandiose country garden party full of locally sourced food and drink for our friends.

During this first year of marriage Ryan, and I have had many conversations about budgets, and spending money, and to say we are on a tight budget would be an understatement. BUT we are also huge supporters of organic, fair-trade, and locally sourced produce. So, we made a commitment to continue buying our groceries in what we feel is an ethical way, while sticking to a pretty tight grocery budget. What does that have to do with this party you might ask?

Well, Ryan and I decided to buy as much as we could locally with a budget of $70 to feed 20 people, including wine (our guests brought the beer). And yes we succeeded, spending less than our targeted budget for the whole shebang. Here are my secrets to sustainable party success:

Reduce Waste with Cloth Napkins
Instead of using disposable napkins we buy linen dish rags to use in our personal life, so we just set out a giant stack of these beauties for our guests, saving us a lot of paper waste.

Cut the Garbage, Use Your Own Silverware
In the same vein instead of using plastic silverware I find that using our everyday silverware is easy to clean-up, and helps elevate the party into something more intimate, and nice.

Use What You’ve Already Got
When thinking about decor I definitely take the stance that the food comes first, atmosphere second. Because we don’t have enough porch chairs that match for big groups I decided to embrace the mix-matched atmosphere and incorporated lots of color through vintage linens, wild flowers, and brightly colored accents, like the Solar Tealight. It magically all came together in the end and I think embracing the resources you do have is the best way to go.

Homemade Tastes Better Anyway
Another great savings for us was Ryan’s contribution of the homemade bread, bbq sauce, and hummus. Homemade bread costs pennies to make and it’s always a crowd pleaser. The hardest part is waiting for the dough to rise.

Locally Source Your Produce in Bulk
We joined a CSA back in February and with our allotted $10 share that week we were able to pick-up all of the produce we needed for the party, with the exception of a couple of cherry tomatoes, the watermelon, and the peaches. The additional produce we needed to complete the meal came from our local farmer’s market.

Serve Foods that Grow with Your Guests
Foods that seem to grow as the number of people do, like couscous salad, is another great way to feed a lot of people with little monetary waste. Outside of the couscous I only used a small cucumber, about six cherry tomatoes, half a medium sized onion, one red pepper, and a handful of mint and pine nuts for 20 people. Since this is a versatile dish, you can keep adding more ingredients to account for unexpected (or extra hungry) guests. Now that’s economical.

Local Wine Fits the Bill
Local wine can also be surprisingly affordable, and with a lot of great options too. We bought two bottles of Virginia wine for $25. The Rocking Carafe was a great way to show off the wine and encourage people to try some.

Ask for a Contribution
Guests always want to contribute to the get together in one way or another and asking them to bring their favorite summer beverage can save you a lot of pain in trying to pick out something that will please everyone. We are really lucky to have a good friend who home brews some pretty amazing beers. Martin brought two six packs of home brew to share and they were definitely a highlight; all of the guys tried their hand at opening one with the One-Handed Bottle Opener.

Think Outside the Box for Fun
For entertainment we played Pictionary against one of our porch walls, using an old high school projector to draw on. It made it a lot easier for a lot of people to play and see no matter where they were standing. We will definitely be doing this again.

Buy in stages for a Better Deal
My last money saving tip, spread out your grocery shopping over a couple of weeks, buying things in stages. I bought the peaches for our dessert a couple of weeks before when a local farmer had a great deal on them, and froze the sliced peaches until I was ready to bake. You have to seek out the deals.

I truly believe you can feed, and entertain people in an affordable, and sustainable way using fresh local ingredients. It’s easy to do, but takes a commitment on your part to seek out the local markets and farms, make things homemade, and out of simple ingredients. Also, remember to sit back and enjoy your company, they’re only there for a little while. I hope the next time you’re planning a party you’ll look around your neighborhood for inspiration first.

big kiss, bekuh
The Uncommon Life

Our Backyard Party Pinterest Contest Winner!

July 6, 2012

We’re sure this week saw plenty of backyard parties, thanks to July 4th! While our social media team isn’t taking an extra-long holiday weekend like many lucky folks out there, we are seriously celebrating BBQs, beaches, and backyard parties and we’re pleased to announce the winner of our first ever Backyard Party Pinterest Contest!

But first, we’d like to share a few of the boards that caught our eyes.

Adrienne’s board leaves us longing for the good old days. Her film strips, snapshots hung with clothespins, and family photos in Mason jars help us remember what summer’s all about–making memories with those you love.

Alyssa’s board also had some great examples of nostalgia, but her food selections are what really stand out. Baked s’mores, blackberry frozen yogurt, and an assortment of summer salads–yum!

Dustie’s boho board steers clear of sugary sweets, and features a variety of summer fruits instead. We love how the colorful fruit fits right in with the playful theme. On one pin Dustie commented, ” In a past life I was a GYPSY!”

Zillie Zallie’s red, white, and blue Independence Day party is another great example of a board with a solid theme and a cohesive look. Patriotic punch and watermelon stars, anyone?

And…the winner is…

NYC Recessionista, Alison. Her deep fried Oreos, Nutella popsicles, and cubed pineapples make us hungry, her friendship bracelets evoke memories of summer camp, and the photos of her own family make us want to get to know them. We’d definitely attend her backyard party!

We received nearly 200 entries, but Alison’s stylish board stood out in the end earning her the grand prize. Congratulations, NYC Recessionista!

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Fresh Air Compost Collector

July 5, 2012

Background Research

The Fresh Air Compost Collector, designed by Heather Tomasetti and Tal Chitayat, is a smart-looking, new-fangled container for storing your compostable food scraps.

Image: Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society

First, for those of you who don’t already participate in the wonderful world of composting: what is it, and why should you do it? In a nutshell (ha-ha, see what I did there?), composting is piling up a lot of waste plant matter–fruit and vegetable peelings, moldy bread, browned avocadoes, raked leaves–in a specific way that makes them decompose in the same manner, but at a faster rate, than they naturally would on their own.

Compost Heap, a 39 Day Time-lapse

Not only does this divert them from the general waste stream and thus the landfill, but “finished” (thoroughly broken-down) compost works magic on plants, not only in an eco-positive way, but also in terms of complex plant science. I tried it, and my plants shot up like they were on steroids.

You’ve probably heard of people keeping worms in bins in their homes in order to compost. But you don’t have to do that. You can just save your scraps and bring them to a compost site run by your community, or a neighbor. However, there’s no getting around the fact that saving compost scraps means keeping them at room temperature for at least a few days if not longer, which can have its unpleasant aspects. The purpose of the Fresh Air Compost Collector is to make them less so.

Time-lapse Fruit and Vegetable Decomposition

See? It’s not necessarily gross. It’s natural, and fascinating to your inner biology nerd.

Most indoor compost collectors either have a lid to prevent odors from escaping, or, like the one I used to have, above, use charcoal filters or other devices to absorb them. (Admittedly, the ventilation-promoting, filter-holding, cut-out flowers on the lid are nicely done.)

The Fresh Air Compost Collector, on the other hand, is designed to allow air to circulate around the scraps in order to slow down the rot rate. (The inventors refer to “air flumes,” and there are no such things, but calling them that is kind of adorable on their part.) Oxygen can get in and heat and moisture can get out, so your moist, vegetably, fruity leftovers evaporate a bit, preventing “anaerobic” (oxygen-free) breakdown. That’s what causes quick bacteria and mold growth, evil-smelling slime, and the fruit flies it attracts.

Hypothesis

The Fresh Air Compost Collector will allow me to enjoy composting, relatively undefiled by disgusting smells and unwelcome fruit flies.

Experiment

I got my Fresh Air Compost Collector in January and have been using it ever since. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to work all that well, because I usually believe in the tried, true, and un-chic, and this is pretty stylin’ for a waste receptacle.

I was game to try, though, because it was a pain to deal with my old compost pail. With that one, I was never sure if I was supposed to put a bag inside it to collect the scraps, or drop them directly into the naked pail.

If I just put them in the pail, it would soon absorb their collective noxious stink. But plastic bags would never stay upright enough to catch the scraps when I dumped them in (which almost invariably happened when I was cooking and unwilling to stop, open the pail, and hold up the stinky, slimy bag to get the scraps in while somehow keeping it upright so as to not spill its contents). Paper bags disintegrated when wet. And when I pulled the bags out to bring it to the compost pile, they always dripped putrid, decomposing produce juice on me, either then, or on the way there, or when I dumped their contents into the community container.

So, on to the new one: First of all, the design of this container is deceptively simple. You can’t really perceive this until you use it, but it’s very well thought-out in every detail.

The sides and bottom of the container have ribs that stick out and keep the bag from lying flat against them. Any liquid that might drip evaporates instead of pooling and festering.

 


Image: Picker's Treasures

 

 

 

 

 

The spring-loaded lid, which is full of tiny holes that allow air to circulate but keep out the flies (just like the tin panels of an old-fashioned pie safe), pops open when you press the button, and stays open without having to be held.

A detachable metal frame keeps the bag upright, so you can toss your scraps into it without getting glop all over yourself. The frame is strong, but light and very easy to lift off and click back into place when you put in a new bag.

One ergonomically crucial factor for me is that, because of where it needs to be stowed in my kitchen, it has to fit under my all-the-way-open dishwasher door, and at 9” tall (and 11.4″ long by 8.5″ wide), it does.

Whether its 1.3-gallon capacity is a good size for you or not depends on how often you eat fresh fruit and vegetables, and how often you’re able to drop off your saved scraps at a compost pile. The one I go to, the North Brooklyn Compost Project, is only open Saturday mornings, so I have to keep my scraps for up to a week (or longer, if I miss the day–see below).

There have been weeks when it was too small for me (I joined a food coop, got overly ambitious, bought too many vegetables, then got busy with other things and most of them went bad in my fridge).

There have been other times when it was too big (my cat died suddenly, I wasn’t up to cooking for a long time, didn’t bother to grocery shop, and put only coffee grounds and the occasional squozed-out lemon in there).

Aaaaand there have been weeks when I missed the compost drop-off day. By “weeks,” I mean “three weeks in a row.” (In my defense, this happened in the middle of winter.) Then it started to smell, though it never got as bad as my old one did.

But those aren’t fair testing conditions; no composter could deliver fume-free service under such circumstances. In general, the Fresh Air Compost Collector performed as promised: it emitted way fewer smells than my old composting pail, and the only time fruit flies were appeared were that one time when I pushed the limits of biology way too far. Even then, I saw only the beginnings of mold.

 

You’re meant to use compostable liner bags with the Fresh Air Compost Collector, because unlike plastic ones, they “breathe.” Since the bags start biodegrading as soon as you put moist food in them, I was sure they’d break in the container, or on the way to the compost pile. As a precaution–because I don’t like coffee grounds mixed with fermented mango skin and slimy rotten cucumber bits dripping down my legs–I put the bag into a plastic shopping bag for the walk to the compost pile. But it was never actually necessary, even after three weeks. None of the bags has broken yet. Still, I recommend holding the bottom of the bag in such a way that it won’t tear when you pick it up. The speed with which they (and everything in them) break down increases as the temperature gets warmer.

The container can easily be taken apart and put in the dishwasher, though the one time I needed to wash mine (following the three-week-no-compost-pile era), I did it by hand.

Tip: Don’t buy the wrong type/size of bags like I did once, duh. Doggie bags! Rusty Marmalade (RIP) was so disappointed in me.

Conclusion

I’m impressed with this doohickey. The Compost-Scrap-Saving Experience no longer means mess, stink and flies. As all three of those are greatly disliked by humans, no wonder the Fresh Air Compost Collector won a 2012 Green House Design Award. Six months in, I’m still happy with it, and am looking forward to filling it with the remains of this summer’s delicious fruits and vegetables.

The Uncommon Life

Happy Birthday to You, July Birthdays

July 2, 2012

There are so many ways to say Happy Birthday – cards, presents, and of course the classic, just saying Happy Birthday. But nothing says it quite like serenading someone with “Happy Birthday” whether in person, over the phone, or at a restaurant while their face turns bright red!

Serenade your friend with a July birthday with your own rendition of “Happy Birthday” and they will be entered to win a $100 UncommonGoods gift card! Rewrite the lyrics of “Happy Birthday” to describe the birthday boy or girl. Leave your new lyrics in a comment on Facebook and be sure to tag your friend. A winner will be chosen on July 31st.

The Uncommon Life

Backyard Party Pinterest Contest

June 22, 2012

Summer is finally here and we can’t wait for backyard barbecues and picnics in the park. In fact, we have been Pinning about it all winter and now want to see your summer inspiration boards!

One lucky winner Pinner will receive an UncommonGoods gift card to furnish their summer party.

Leave the link to your inspirational Backyard Party board in the comments below and/or on the original pin in our Summer Time board and you’ll be entered to win.

We’ll announce the winner on July 6. How much that person wins is up to you. For every 50 entries we see, we’ll add $50 to the grand prize, up to a total of $250. So after you share your board with us, be sure to tell your friends and family to enter too!

Follow us on Pinterest for more updates, and leave a link to your profile in the comments. We follow back!

Good luck and happy pinning. We can’t wait to see your brilliant boards!

The Uncommon Life

Wheat Grass in the House (and the tortoise, and the cats)

June 19, 2012

At UncommonGoods, we’re big proponents of “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle.” Nothing goes to waste, if we can help it. Last week, our Creative team did something super-top secret with 24 flats of wheat grass. Afterward, rather than throw it away, Adam, our staff photographer, walked among our desks offering some to any takers. He left the rest on a shelf in one of our break rooms.

I happened to be tortoise-sitting last week for some neighbors who were out of town. Since Roberta – that’s her name – eats only greens, and the occasional flower when she gets lucky, I wondered if she could eat wheat grass, too.

A quick web search turned up both the type of tortoise she is (sulcata, or African spurred tortoise–a desert type) and the answer to my question: Grass is great. I learned that desert tortoises evolved to make the most of high-fiber, low-protein greens like grasses, and that lower-fiber, higher-protein supermarket greens that people eat are bad for their health.

I brought some flats of the wheat grass to Roberta’s lair, and she went nuts for it.

Chomp chomp chomp chomp! It was like watching a dinosaur movie.

This is what one of the flats looked like after she had had her way with it for a couple of days.

Cats, too, enjoy the occasional blade of grass, so I gave a couple of flats to a friend who has five; three in the office and two at home; and to another friend who has two. All seven are rescues, saved from heartbreaking lives by the kindness and cat-craziness of my pals.

Here’s Pumpkin, nibbling.

Pumpkin again, really getting into it. Check out those fangs!

Gloria isn’t sure she wants to get involved.

Gloria, sending a telepathic wheat grass inquiry to her Martian overlords.

Beta is living the compleat wheat grass lifestyle: eating it, pretending to be a lion stalking in an African savanna, and finally, using it as his throne.

It doesn’t get much greener than taking something already green and re-using it–and finally, via the magical mystery of a tortoise’s digestive system, turning it into garden fertilizer. I decided to spare you photos of that.

The Uncommon Life

How to Make It: Building Your Personal Brand

June 14, 2012


We are so excited to be hosting How To Make It: Building Your Personal Brand, our second design forum and happy hour on Tuesday June 26.

Our first panel talked about how to get things started in making it as an independent designer but this time we invited designers and professionals who can speak to establishing your brand. This panel includes Tara Gentile of Scoutie Girl, Laura Ann Young of Areaware and Terrence Kelleman of Dynomighty.

Guests will have the opportunity to share their designs and business ideas with the panel to get instant and honest feedback from the panel. And as always, there will be a happy hour after the forum talk where you can mingle with the panelists, UncommonGoods staff and other local creatives.

You can RSVP on our Eventbrite page. We hope to see you there!

The Uncommon Life

How to Style Agate Centerpieces

June 11, 2012

Whether you are throwing a backyard dinner party or planning a wedding, centerpiece ideas are sometimes a daunting task. They are the focal point of your sit-down meal and can really bring a room together if they are styled right. Although the Agate Cheese Platters are great for serving up snack, they are also versatile and could fit into a number of decor schemes. On the bottom of each platter are three rubber bumpers which creates a nice platform. The jewel-tone platters also have a natural shiny finish so they will glow in the dim light of a party.

I was interested in seeing how the Agate Cheese Platters would work in a centerpiece design, I took them home, put my decorating hands to work and came up with three different ways to style them.

CRAFTY
Some of the cutest centerpiece ideas out there are composed of found items. Make your centerpieces personal with a craft touch. Create a small penant banner with washi tape and neon twine and string it between two tall sticks. I used wooden knitting needles but another great option are painted twigs. Personalize a mason jar by wrapping it in colored yarn or twine. Lastly, I pulled some guitar picks and a harmonica from our collection to add some personality to this table decoration.

CHIC
These eggplant platter just scream glamour to me so I wanted to see a sleeker look. I pulled out some crystal and glass candle holders that would reflect nicely when the lights get low. Around the platter, I sprinkled some white flower petals to soften the entire look. I only wish it was dark enough to test the glow of the platter in candlelight but was pleased to see the reflection of the crystal on the platter.

RUSTIC
I thought it would be an interesting contrast to add some rustic charm to the polished platters so I started with an old honey jar of white flowers tied with natural twine. I set the jar in a bed of dried moss from the craft store and scattered small twigs and stones. I was so happy with the little enchanted forest I created.

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