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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Steve Reid and Judith Irving

April 30, 2015

Our makers never fail to motivate us, encourage our creativity, and fill us with inspiration. So, when a new design enters our assortment, we’re always excited to learn more about the person behind the product.

What gets an artist going and keeps them creating is certainly worth sharing, and every great connection starts with a simple introduction. Meet Steve Reid and Judith Irving, creators of our delectable Caramel Sauce Set.

Steve Reid and Judith Irving | Caramel Sauce Sets | UncommonGoods

When did you know you wanted to be makers?
Fat Toad Farm started out as an experiment in homesteading. As a family, we wanted to see how self-sufficient we could be. We began this adventure with some chickens, a garden, and hand-milking a lovely French Alpine doe named Jupiter in our garage. We slowly started to produce more milk than we could use as a family. At that point, my daughter Josey returned home from a five year stay in Mexico. She told us about a Mexican confection called “cajeta” (traditional name for goat’s milk caramel) that she said was very popular all over Mexico and that she had learned how to make. We made some small batches of it on our kitchen stove and it really was quite delicious! We gave some to our friends and family and it was a big hit. We soon realized that we had a really unique and delicious product on our hands and decided to take our “hobby” to the next level. Fast forward eight years and we are now milking 60 goats in a modern milking parlor, making our goat’s milk caramel sauce in our own commercial kitchen, and selling it to over 300 specialty food stores throughout the United States.

What was the most exciting thing about starting your own business?
We have always been excited and grateful to be able to working from our home, on our own farm, using our neighborhood land and working as a family. After years and years of “working out,” this has been a rare privilege. Being able to make decisions and seeing them being implemented from beginning until the end is also very exciting, and sometimes nerve wracking. The ability to make changes and improvements to our business rests solely on our shoulders which can be quite overwhelming and empowering at the same time.

What does your typical day at work look like?
On any given day you will catch Steve or Colene milking the goats early in the morning (6:00) and me [Judith] doing chores. Jenny and either Calley or Christine arrive at 7 to the caramel room Monday through Friday, to start the caramel production process. Jenny stays in there meticulously hand-stirring our velvety caramel sauce for about five hours in traditional copper kettles.

After morning chores are complete, you’ll find me printing off orders and labels at my computer and then preparing the days shipments from our “shipping center” at the back of our small farm store. Inside the farmhouse, Calley and Christine will be at the kitchen table, computers revved up, developing new marketing materials, products, and flavors, and generating all of our social media.

Midday, I do chores again, the caramel finishing team starts “bottling” the caramel until 3, I often do farm tours or handle basic financial work. By 4, the milking and chore team are back at it, the caramel team is done and wrapping up their administrative work. By 7 p.m., milking is done, the chickens are put to bed, the 2 baby goats that get bottles have been fed and everyone is off to whatever it is they are doing that evening to wind down. (Check out the video below to see everyone in action.)


Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
Walking around the farm you’ll see different kinds of toad figurines of all different colors, shapes, and sizes. In the beginning, when we were trying to think of a name for the farm, we had been walking through our fields and we kept finding these fat, healthy toads hopping as we walked along. Toads are a sign of a healthy ecosystem and fertile lands which we took as a good omen. That is when we became Fat Toad Farm. I think having real toads present as well as little trinkets, helps us remember how we started and how far we have come.

Caramel Corn Made with Fat Toad Farms Caramel

What are some of the things you’ve heard people say upon tasting your caramel creations for the first time?
“Oh my goodness!”
“I could just eat this straight out of the jar with a spoon.”
“I’m going to have to hide this from my husband.”
“I’m going to have to hide this from my wife.”
“This has no calories, right?”
“Mmmmmmmmmmm. Just one more taste…”
“Sweet, but not too sweet. Just right!”
“You can really taste the goat’s milk!”
“This is lick-the-spoon good.”

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
“If Britney Spears can make it through 2007, you can get through today.” Surprisingly, we heard the quote on NPR and we all initially just laughed. Once we really thought about it though, it stuck with us. Here on the farm, things can get pretty hard but we have realized you just have to find the light and continue to work towards it.

Caramel Sauce | UncommonGoods

Bring this Caramel Home!

Maker Stories

Kendyll Hillegas’ Food for Thought

March 31, 2015

In the grip of the snowiest winter on record for the Boston area, Kendyll Hillegas was illustrating a pink, soft serve ice cream cone in her Quincy, MA studio.

Kendyll Hillegas | UncommonGoods

As an exercise of pure optimism, her subject makes sense: summer is just around the corner, despite the brutal, lingering winter endured by much of the country. But the singular delight of a popsicle in any season is just one of Kendyll’s creative obsessions. She lavishes equal aesthetic appreciation on herbs, fruits and vegetables, and baked goods—especially pie.

The Last Slice | Kendyll Hillegas

Much of her work celebrates the multi-sensory experience of food, from the simple comfort of golden, buttered toast to the elaborate artificiality of multicolored candy machines. Each of these portrait-like images is an exploration of subtle color and texture, but through these details also conveys a sense of taste, aroma, and even memory. For example, commenting on “Ice Pops,” one of her exclusive pieces for UncommonGoods, Kendyll invokes a time and place much warmer than snowbound Boston:

“I was inspired by childhood memories of warm afternoons spent playing in the sprinklers. After getting thoroughly wet, we’d sit in the sun in our swimsuits, drying off and eating ice pops. Growing up in Southern California, many childhood food memories have frozen treats in them…this is definitely a favorite.”

Ice Pops by Kendyll Hillegas | UncommonGoods
Ice Pops | UncommonGoods

Like many artists, Kendyll strives for a more universal connection through her work, one that transcends her personal associations and speaks to something in others’ experience. When asked how she hopes people react when they receive her work, she invokes that universal connection:

“My hope is that the work that I make—while inspired and informed by my own narrative—would connect people with particular memories, moments and feelings of their own. Whether it’s nostalgia, wistfulness, laughter, or longing, it never ceases to amaze me how varied and powerful people’s responses can be to images of food.”

Kendyll's materials

It may not be a revelation that food brings people together, but Kendyll’s dedication to it goes beyond familiar foodie clichés. Take her love affair with pie: it began at 15, when she and a friend tested the “5 second rule” by eating the last remaining slice of pumpkin pie that had tragically fallen on the kitchen floor. The incident elevated pie to a symbol of friendship, silly spontaneity, and determination for the artist, who has been on an epic quest to make the perfect pie ever since—whether through colored pencil and gouache, or through flaky crust and sweet filling.

The Last Slice | Pie Painting by Kendyll Hillegas | UncommonGoods

Going forward, Kendyll says she’s interested in creating images of people eating together and sharing meals, in addition to continuing her studies of food itself as a subject. Her aspiration is to stay connected with her growing portfolio of food work while simultaneously remaining open to approaching new subjects and trying new techniques.

See Kendy'll Collection!

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Getting Through Winter with the Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server

February 3, 2015

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server and Dessert Baking Salts | UncommonGoods

Product: Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server 

I know what you’re thinking. When you peer outside at the slushy streets, you’re more likely to daydream about the Chihuahuan Desert than a chilled dessert. I was right there with you. Commuting by foot in New York City has a way of influencing my food cravings to lean in reverse correlation with the weather. I accepted this as a nonnegotiable truth until I stumbled upon one of our Uncommon Knowledge topics from late November: Can ice cream get you through a cold winter?

I was surprised to discover that the largest consumers of ice cream actually live in Northeastern states! How could this be true when temperatures are less than lovely six months out of the year? It turns out that the fat content in ice cream makes us warmer. Our bodies produce more energy to break down the fat contained in the average ice cream cone, causing a rise in body temperature during digestion.

Armed with evidence that ice cream serves my well-being, I was really excited for the chance to test our Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server. First, I examined my go-to scoop method. Whenever I return from a late-night Americone Dream run, I’m usually too impatient to let my ice cream soften before awkwardly digging in with a secondhand spoon. This vicious cycle ends with me silently cursing as the spoon morphs further and further out of its intended shape.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

This tool is designed to eliminate that waiting time (and rescue those bent spoons). The chrome plated aluminum handle, which is curved to fit comfortably in your hand, naturally conducts body heat and warms the head of the scoop, allowing for a smooth break into the ice cream. According to our product description, “an angled head works with the natural rolling action of your wrist to easily drive through topping-laden or frozen-solid ice cream. And the unique, spade-shaped edge is designed to get to the bottom of containers, letting you spoon out every last bit.”

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Next, I did some background research. I learned that the original ice cream scoop was invented by Alfred L. Cralle in 1897, nearly 118 years ago!  Dr. Karl Ulrich, the maker of this particular model, is a self-proclaimed ice cream geek who has been collecting vintage ice cream scoops for over 20 years. He decided to take a crack at redesigning the ice cream scoop for a homework assignment in his Coursera product development class. How cool is that?

Based on the above research, I suspect that this will be the best ice cream server I’ve ever used. However, I think this tool will only be worthy of its price if it truly functions as promised. Being a natural skeptic, I decide to host a mini ice cream sundae party to test the ergonomic properties of this product.

I enlisted the help of two guys who aren’t afraid to push the limits of a sugar coma, my boyfriend Jamie and our friend Dan.

We gathered our controlled gluttonous variables: ingredients for homemade brownies, vanilla bean ice cream from a nearby bodega, chocolate babka from Russ & Daughters, Dessert and Baking Salts from UncommonGoods, and spiked apple cider to wash it all down.

Dessert and Baking Salts | UncommonGoods

The first thing we observed was this product’s beautiful packaging. The server was wrapped in a soft cloth that could easily double as a shining tool. Right away, we all agree that this scoop is an instant conversation starter that should be on display, not shoved in the back of a miscellaneous kitchen drawer.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | UncommonGoods

We whipped up Smitten Kitchen’s homemade brownies, using espresso salt from the Dessert and Baking Salts kit. While those baked in the oven, we decide to heat the babka as a base for our first sundae of the evening.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Once the babka was warm, the ice cream emerged from my freezer, ready to be scooped.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Before digging in, all three of us took turns holding the Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server. Though our hands vary in size and shape, it molded very well to each of our palms, making for a sturdy and comfortable grip, just as promised.

Jamie waited a long 30 seconds for me to snap some photos before breaking into the ice cream.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoodsEasy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Amazingly, there was no resistance. Even though the server didn’t feel hot, the ice cream curled into the scoop like butter.

Thermal conductive properties: check!

Over the next few minutes, we each took turns testing the natural rotation of the server, studying how our wrists moved with each scoop. Luckily, we are each right-handed. (Unfortunately, UncommonGoods does not carry the left-handed model.) As advertised, the natural curve of the server really did work in harmony with our wrists, delivering Instagram-worthy scoop after scoop.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Designed for natural rotation of the wrist: check!

Once our first scoops were served, we topped our sundaes with various salts from the kit. Salted ice cream was a first for all of us. Overall, we were each pleasantly surprised by these sweet and savory additions. I highly recommend espresso, vanilla cardamom, and blueberry for extra goodness!

Dessert and Baking Salts | UncommonGoods

Allowing our bodies little time to digest those winter-warming fats, we dug into the brownies to start preparing round two. This time, our main priority was to test how this scoop performed in hard-to-reach areas. Our rectangular carton was perfect for testing the angular head of the server.

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Using the same natural wrist rotation, Jamie found it very easy to scrape extra ice cream out of the corners of the carton.

Though we didn’t finish all of the ice cream that night, we were confident that this tool wouldn’t leave us with freezer-burned remnants once the carton was empty. The corners were already wiped clean!

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoodsEasy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Designed to scoop those hard-to-reach areas: check!

Three intense sugar comas: check!

After staying away from sweets for a few days, Jamie and I decided to conduct an impromptu experiment with cold cookie dough. If you’re still not convinced of ice cream’s seasonal benefits, this scoop also works well to form warm, winter-approved cookies!

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Dan: “That is the best damn scoop I have ever used!”

Jamie: “Buttery smooth. That is a gorgeous piece of aluminum.”

I couldn’t agree more! I was very impressed. Though this product has a higher price point, I think it’s just as beneficial in the kitchen as a restaurant-quality spatula or ladle. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a truly unique gift or a collector’s item. It’s clear that the makers paid close attention to every minute detail of the ice cream scoop experience, from start to finish. I can easily see this become a prized piece in a kitchen, not just as an accessory but also as a showpiece. My only advice is to be mindful of gifting this particular server to left-handed friends. Otherwise, cheers to ice cream sundaes and great design!

Easy Scoop Ice Cream Server | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Press

July 25, 2012

Since I am naturally an ice cream mix master (my first job in high school was with Coldstone Creamery!), I chose the Cuisipro Mini Ice Cream Sandwich Press for my experiment. Along with my mastered mixing techniques, I consider ice cream the seventh major food group and live off of the sweet stuff during the summer months.

I think that I can make homemade ice cream sandwiches to cool off on a hot summer day.

I knew this would be a fun project to work on during a hot Sunday afternoon with my brother, Colby. We first brainstormed what cookie and ice cream combinations would be the tastiest. I splurged on an Upstate NY favorite, Stewart’s ice cream. And we cheated a little bit on the cookies.

The first step was making the cookies!

Our little helper needed to take a break during the clean-up.

Once the cookies were out of the oven, we laid them out to cool. Note: I anxiously made the mistake of waiting only five minutes and I had a sloppy mess. You MUST wait for your cookies to be completely cool!

Once completely cooled, we started using our tools. Included in the package are three different sandwich shapes – a heart, a star and a circle. The directions are simple and printed on the back of the box – cut the cookie; scoop up the ice cream; cut the second cookie and twist the handle to press together; twist to release the sandwich.

What a delicious treat! We ended up with lovely heart shaped sugar cookies with black cherry ice cream, peanut buttery overloaded cookies with peanut butter cup ice cream, and star shaped double chocolate chunk cookies with a classic vanilla ice cream. After our sugar crash and hour-long nap from a hard-working afternoon, we went back for seconds!

I come from an awesome sweet-toothed family that celebrates spring with a party full of deserts, and I plan on making these for next year’s event. What a clever treat and fun activity!

The Uncommon Life

Sweet Treats Week: Recipe #3

July 22, 2010

Orange Pineapple Sunshine Cupcakes

Doesn’t the name alone just make you smile? I’ve never met a more cheerful, upbeat dessert! If you have a summer birthday coming up, these are a fun alternative to typical ice cream cakes. They have a wonderfully delicate tropical-meets-vanilla flavor. And they feel very  light and airy – thanks to applesauce as a substitute for oil and whip cream frosting. Plus, with oranges, pineapples and applesauce – it’s practically like eating a fruit salad! At least that’s what I told myself as I ate one for breakfast this morning… Continue Reading…

Gift Guides

Do not lick your computer screen

July 20, 2010

It’s about this time every summer, when I feel like I’m no longer living on Earth but on the surface of the sun, that I switch over to a diet consisting mainly of ice cream, iced tea, sherbet, sorbet, watermelon, berries and the occasional piece of icebox pie.  All of these are usually consumed while sitting in front of a fan/air conditioner: a true triumph of heat-induced laziness.

And so, in honor of sugar comas and ice cream headaches, this week is all about sweet summer treats! Below are some of my favorite ways to serve summer drinks and desserts.  And for the rest of the week, we will be posting yummy dessert and drink recipes, including raspberry lime pie, sunshine cupcakes and the perfect mojito. What are your favorite summer desserts and drinks? Share with us below!

Sweet Treats for Summer

From top left: Tweet Tweet Cupcake Set, $12.  Ice Cream Bowls, $36. Old-fashioned lemonade crock, $135. V’reens dessert and appetizer tray, $50. Cupcake corer and decorating set, $20. Pittoon Platter, $45. Glass Ice Cream Bowls, $30.

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