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Gift Lab

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Rolling Out DIY Sushi

August 11, 2015

NeQuana_sushi_giftlab_forblog

Product: Sushi Making Kit

Research:
I typically eat sushi 2 – 4 times a month and it has never crossed my mind to make it myself. Upon seeing this product, I suddenly became obsessed with wanting to create it for myself and others – I craved sushi almost every day. The kit looked like it would be easy and not a fussy/stressful meal to prepare, which made me more eager to try.

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The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Creating the Spa Experience at Home and On the Road

July 10, 2015

Gift Lab | Spa Experience Tin

Product: Spa Experience Tin

Research: 

Remember that bit from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the patriarch of the family insists that Windex is the cure-all for everything, from pimples to mysterious rashes? All you ever have to do, he says, is “put some Windex on it!” I’m kind of like that with tea tree oil. I never travel without it.

I am fascinated by natural beauty regimes. I love experimenting with DIY body scrubs and lotions, and learning about alternative beauty trends like the “no-poo method.” Unfortunately, I don’t always have the time to make my own products, and truly natural beauty products can be outrageously expensive. So when I first noticed the well-priced Spa Experience Tin in our assortment, I knew I had to check it out. I jumped at the chance to relay my spa experience for the blog.

Before trying out any new products, I’ve become much more conscious about looking up the ingredients first. (Especially because I’ll probably always be worried about the effects of my Lip Smackers chapstick addiction during my youth.) I’ve definitely fallen victim to “greenwashing” in the past, purchasing “all-natural” products only to discover that their ingredients looks like a chemistry experiment, with one or two organic ingredients mixed in for good measure. I was pleased to see that this handmade collection is assembled by 1818 Farms, an idyllic farm in Mooresville, Alabama. But I still wasn’t convinced that these handmade products would meet my standards until I saw this short list of recognizable ingredients for each product:

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Grow Your Own Organic Cilantro

July 2, 2015

Rachel

Product: Garden-in-a-Can: Grow Organic Cilantro & Citrus Juicer

Hypothesis:
I’ve been told cilantro is really hard to grow so I was skeptical. Could it really be that easy? Just pop the top, bury the seeds and water for a few weeks? And would lime juice help me win the guacamole competition? My answers were yes! and yes!

Research:
When I heard we would be doing a more gardener-novice-friendly grow kit, I jumped on the chance to test it out. If all goes well, I’d have fresh cilantro in the house for the Purchasing team guacamole competition in a few weeks! I also knew then that lime (and tons of it) would be my secret ingredient, so I employed the help of our new citrus juicer to get the best results!

Experiment:
So, I did just that! I opened up the can, gently buried all the seeds about an inch under the surface and then poured about 2 shot glasses of water in every day or two to keep it looking moist.

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make DIY Tonic

June 10, 2015

MarisaGiftLab_TonicKitedited

Product: Tonic Making Kit

 

Government quinine factory, Mungpoo, IndiaGovernment quinine factory, Mungpoo, India. Established in 1864 during British rule, via Wikipedia

Research:
Full-blown summer has arrived. In Cocktail Land, the hotter the weather, the lighter and crisper people want their drinks. Which brings us to the gin and tonic.

Tonic water’s bitter flavor derives from quinine, a chemical in the bark of certain species of Cinchona trees native to the Andes mountains of Peru. Quinine’s association with gin – a British booze – came about when India was part of the British Empire.

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The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Learning How to Knit with the Knitty Kitty

June 2, 2015

Knitty Kitty Kit | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

 

Product: Knitty Kitty Kit 

Research:

Five years ago, my talented and crafty friend Kate started hosting Sunday night knitting get-togethers in her dorm with movies, groups of friends, and snacks. I attended most weeks to be cool like Kate, and also for the snacks, but while everyone else flew past knitting and purling to more advanced patterns, I was never able to produce more than a few lopsided rectangles filled with dropped stitches, left unfinished and eventually abandoned. Every several months, I try to take up knitting again with similar results. I was excited that the Knitty Kitty Kit is described as a rainy-day activity for ages 5+, so it’s just my speed, and is more exciting to knit than a scarf. To prepare, I abandoned my current knitting project—another sad blue lopsided length of yarn—and broke open the Knitty Kitty Kit, which came with everything I needed to knit a cat stuffed animal.

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Potato, Potahto, & Two More Potatoes (All Seasoned Differently!)

May 22, 2015

Louise Geller | UncommonGoods

 

Product: Potato Seasoning Set and Potato People

Research:
There is nothing more ubiquitous than the potato when it comes to filling the role of “starch” on a U.S. dinner plate. In fact, the average American eats over 140 pounds of potatoes per year! And yet, despite a centuries-old national love affair with potatoes, our most popular side dish often gets a bad rap, because so many of our 140+ pounds each come to us fried in oil, coated in preservatives, and slathered in fatty or sugary condiments. But it doesn’t have to be this way! When eaten with a more simple preparation (and with the skins left on!) potatoes are a great source of Vitamins C and B6, Potassium, Fiber, and Iron, and the complex carbohydrates are great for keeping your energy up.

I am a firm believer that food is at its most truly delicious when it is prepared simply and healthfully, so when I saw Julie Pederson’s Potato Seasoning Set I was immediately excited to take it for a test ride. Julie Pederson is wonderful at creating food and drink kits to help you explore new flavors and combinations, from herbal tea to baking salts. Since there are over 4,000 varieties of potatoes grown, and the kit has 12 different seasoning mixes, there are seemingly endless ways to play, create, and EAT! Who could resist?

Since I was already going to be playing with potatoes, I also wanted to try out our Potato People, a super fun set of potato nails that use the natural heat conducting power of metal to help potatoes cook faster on the grill or in the oven, and look hilarious while they are doing it.

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Stay Cool & Caffeinated with Cold Brew Coffee

May 15, 2015

Abi tests the Cold Brew Coffee Set

Product: Coffee Cold Brew Gift Set

Hypothesis:
Iced coffee is one of my favorite morning treats, so I was super excited to try out the Cold Brew Coffee Gift Set (and drink the coffee in the morning at work). I hypothesized that this set would be a great alternative to spending money at coffee shops.

Research:

The set includes instructions, which I followed to the best of my ability. I am rather impatient, so there were parts that I was tempted to skip, but I stayed faithful to the directions throughout.

Experiment: 
I began by boiling the filter (the instructions say to boil the filter before its first use, to pre-shrink it) in water for 10 minutes. The instructions say that filters “will continue to shrink slightly for the next few uses and will produce the best quality brew from then on.” I don’t have any proof of this yet, but I look forward to tasting all the future cold brew coffee batches to see if taste improves over time.

Boiling the Filter

The provided recipe says to use 2 cups of freshly ground coffee of your choice (the kit comes with two cups ready to go for your first batch).

Coffee Beans

I added the coffee to the fabric filter and “bloomed” the grounds, as per the directions. In this case, to bloom the grounds means to wet them thoroughly and let them stand for 60 seconds.

Grounds

I twisted the neck of the filter, as tightly as I could, and wrapped the tie string around the neck a few times, then slipped the neck of the filter through the glass ring (which is attached to/hanging from the filter bag).

Tightening Filter

Then I inserted the filter into the jar and filled the jar with cold water.

Cold Brew Coffee In The Works!

Luckily I did this at the end of the day in the office, because it takes 12-16 hours to cold brew in the fridge till it’s ready. The next morning, I would get to sample my first batch of cold brew!

Conclusion: 
Fresh Coffee | UncommonGoods

Ta da! I opened the fridge to find some actual cold brewed coffee. It looked pretty good, smelled delightful, and was also tasty. I did feel that it was a little weak, though. I removed the filter, dumped the grounds into the compost bin, washed the filter out, and set it out to dry until I made my next batch.

Finished Coffee

The kit comes with a pouring device that fits inside the lid, which works quite nicely for pouring the coffee once its done.

Drinking Cold Brew Coffee

People don’t naturally look at a camera when they are drinking coffee, but I wanted to show you that I was trying the coffee I just made, and allow you to fully see the expression on my face while I first tasted it. I look pretty strange, but I assure you, the coffee tasted good and I was excited to be trying it out.

Yumzies! |Delicious Iced Coffee with Coconut Milk
Here I am, showing off the final product, in my favorite glass, complete with almond/coconut milk. So yummy!

In case you are wondering (and you really might be curious about this), I do not add sugar to my coffee, unless it tastes completely awful. I did not even consider adding sugar to this batch. I found it very yummy (though, like I said, I would have liked it to be a bit more concentrated).

During my next trial, I filled the filter as much as possible (this was probably almost 3 cups of coffee grounds). It was delicious but quite strong. I think two and half cups is probably the ideal amount of coffee grounds that should be used for this cold brew coffee (at least for it to be just right for me). I’m excited to use the Coffee Cold Brew Set this summer to beat the heat in a very delicious way!

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make More Creative Cocktails (Through Science!)

April 6, 2015

Erica gives the Molecular Mixology Mojito Kit a Try | UncommonGoods

Product:  Molecular Mixology Kit – Mojito Set 

Research:
I’m usually a straight whiskey or red wine drinker, mostly due to laziness and complete lack of skill with any drink that requires shaking, stirring, or straining, but I was curious to see if the Molecular Mixology Mojito Kit could help me hone my cocktail skills. My idea of mixing a drink is adding a little Diet Coke to the whiskey, so there’s a lot of room for improvement. To prepare, I watched the product’s Youtube video, which led me to believe that I, too, could create fancy drinks in just a few steps and stocked up on rum and mint leaves.

Hypothesis:
I will be the best bartender since Sam Malone and impress my friends. Besides, Molecular Mixology sounds somewhat hipster, and with my recent move to Brooklyn, maybe this kit could help me better fit in to the new neighborhood.

Experiment: 
Materials Needed:
Molecular Mixology Kit
Hand Blender
Bowls
Mint
Rum
Club Soda
Ice
Sugar
Stove
Pots
Friends

I cut the recipes in half because they make a huge amount of mojitos and it was a school night. Since my mission this evening is to be fancy, I decided to start with the mint caviar recipe. What could be fancier than caviar?

Experiment 1, Mint Caviar:

Step 1:
I first read through the instructions and gathered materials.

Step 2:

Making Caviar Mojitos | UncommonGoods
Impatience won out over the instructions I just read, so rather than bringing the sugar, mint, and water to a boil on the stove, I used an electric kettle to boil the water and poured it over the sugar and mint leaves.

Blending the Mojito Caviar | UncommonGoods
Step 3:
I then blended the mixture together, strained it, and added the Sodium Alginate packet before letting the mixture sit for 30 minutes.

Step 4:
Watch an episode of something on Netflix while the Sodium Alginate mixture sits (for best results, try Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).

Step 5:
Add Calcium Lactate to a separate bowl of water and stir.

Caviar Dropper | UncommonGoods

 

Caviar Dropper and Bowl
Step 6:
Fill the pipette with the Sodium Alginate mixture and add to the Calcium Lactate bowl in drops. This was by far my favorite part, because the mint caviar formed right away and this step felt the most like I was doing science. Having wine on hand helps the process and is good insurance in case the molecular mixology doesn’t end well.

Rinsing Mojito Caviar | UncommonGoods
Step 7:
Remove the mint caviar from the solution with a sieve and rinse with water.

Step 8:
Put the Caviar in the bottom of a glass and cover with blended ice, rum, and club soda.
Molecular Mojito | UncommonGoods
Step 9:
Stir and sip. This wasn’t the best mojito I’ve ever tasted, mostly because the mint flavor isn’t distributed throughout the drink, so depending on how much caviar you get in each sip, it tastes more or less like the cocktail should. But what it sometimes lacked in consistent flavor it made up for in cool factor, and I would eat those mint caviar drops by themselves. Next time—and they give you enough of the chemical packets for several next times—I would add food coloring to the mint solution so it is more festive and interesting to look at in the glass. I also might try making the caviar for different types of drinks and flavor combinations.

Experiment 2, Mojito Bubbles:

Mojito Bubbles | UncommonGoods
Step 1:
Put Calcium Lactate, sugar, mint, and lime wedges in a high ball glass and crush wish a muddler. Since I have neither a highball glass nor a muddler, I bashed them together with a spoon in a plastic cup. Less classy, but it got the job done.

Step 2:
Add rum and club soda. Mix until the calcium is dissolved and filter.

Mint Bubbles | UncommonGoods
Step 3:
Place mint leaves in the bubble mold and fill them with the liquid mixture. Freeze.

Step 4:
SCIENCE! Dissolve the Sodium Alginate in a bowl and blend. Unmold the iced mojitos into the bowl and stir. Because I didn’t read the directions first to see that they needed to freeze and started these late, I didn’t get to this part until the following morning.

Step 5:
Pick up the spheres with a slotted spoon and rinse them in a bowl of water.

Molecular Mixology - Mojito Bubbles | UncommonGoodsBreakfast of Champions

Step 6:
Enjoy! While slightly more involved, I much preferred these to the mint caviar mojitos. The bubble bursts in your mouth and fills it with an intense mojito flavor. Kind of like grown up Gushers.

Conclusion:
I could see using this kit to make drinks for a special dinner or event, but it was also very fun as an activity for a night in. The directions were easy to follow and provided fun science facts about the process. My friends all really enjoyed the science aspect of the kit, and there was something very satisfying about completing the full process and presenting a beautiful drink rather than just gulping it down. Next time, I might try experimenting with different drinks using the chemical compounds provided. While I won’t be leaving UncommonGoods to open my own bar any time soon, I learned something new and now have a fun activity to use again in the future.

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