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Gift Lab

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Build Your Own Brooklyn

February 20, 2015

Rocky |UncommonGoods

Product: DIY Brooklyn Skyline Kits

Research:
I think images of artwork are great. But I think videos of artwork being created are so much better. That must mean that GoPro videos from the perspective of the artist creating a piece are the best! At least that’s my theory… which brings us to today’s Gift Lab. I took you out to the beach in my last blog post to demo a product. This time around, you’re going inside my head to see something cool get built from the bottom up.

Hypothesis:
Our DIY Brooklyn Skyline Kits offer the chance for you to craft a mini version of two signature structures in New York, the Kentile Floors sign and your ordinary rooftop water tower. It caught my eye after I saw the two shots of custom designed water towers on our product page.

DIY Watertower | UncommonGoods
DIY Brooklyn Skylines - Watertower | UncommonGoods

Perfect product to test my theory with! First off, these are hot. Nice job Zero Productivity and Atomiko. But more importantly, I can gauge how well we’re able to see something being constructed and designed, without spending hours on hours doing it. I haven’t drawn anything in years. A lot of effort would’ve been needed to produce something that gives my 5-year-old self some competition.

I was also glad to see that two different versions of the kit existed. While doing research on best practices for filming (read: watching GoPro videos on Youtube), I found it difficult to tell which GoPro dock to use for this; chest mount or head mount? So I bought both. I decided that I’d use one mount for one kit and another mount for the other.

Two DIY Brooklyn Skyline kits, two mounts, and one GoPro in hand later… the test was ready to begin.

Testing GoPro with DIY Brooklyn Skyline Kits | UncommonGoods

Experiment:
I started with the Water Tower kit first, for no other reason than wanting to get closer to fantasizing about being a graffiti artist. After I laid all of the cardboard pieces on the table as instructed, I strapped the GoPro chest mount on, pressed record and got to work.

Here’s a closeup of the major pieces made for the water tower.
Build Your Own Brooklyn Watertower | UncommonGoods

Now it was time to design it. I grabbed a pack of Crayola markers and started doodling.

Finished Watertower | UncommonGoods

The first immediate takeaway – Tagging my water tower before building it would’ve been the better idea. The advantage of utilizing a flat surface didn’t cross my mind even slightly; until it was time to record myself doing it. That explains the split between the clips. I had to game plan.

The other thing was the actual video. In order to learn more about using the GoPro, I turned to Wistia.com’s #GoProWeek as a resource. Every day for that week, they shared a different pro tip (no pun intended) for getting the best shot. One of the techniques I used was the time-lapse recording feature that snaps pictures every few seconds, instead of actually recording straight through. I wasn’t a fan of the final result, because the footage came out too choppy. I think I set the timer in between shots too far apart. I decided to make sure to use the other recommended method for the next kit; shooting normally and speeding up the footage in a video editor.

Besides that, the rest of the process was smooth sailing and more fun than expected. The maker’s of the kits provided clear step-by-step assembly directions and all pieces worked as intended. Any edge that needed folding went over smoothly. The laser cut tabs and indents fit perfectly into each other. Connecting the pieces was a snap (that pun, intended). The biggest surprise was the glue; it did not leave a mess on my hands or the table I worked on. It comes already setup in drops that are separated by perforated plastic. When the instructions tell you to grab one, just rip one dot from the pack, peel off the plastic covering, and apply to the marked area. That easy.

Glue Dots

Next up was recording the Kentile Floors sign DIY kit with the GoPro attached to the head mount. You’ll notice that it begins with me filling in the letters first, and then moving on to putting it together.

The simplicity of the structure’s design made assembly much quicker. There wasn’t much of a surface to draw on but filling in the narrow letters required a little bit of time. I really like the point of view that the head cam captured. It feels like you’re actually putting it together rather than observing someone else do it.

Kentile Floors Sign Kit | UncommonGoods

Conclusion:
All in all, I’m convinced that my theory is correct. Watching art creation from a GoPro perspective is a cool experience that helps anyone appreciate the process behind the final result more. It’s amazing to see what goes into pieces, especially from our assortment, I’d imagine. We have a wide selection of uncommon goods that obviously require an uncommon approach to create.

In retrospect, I see where areas for improvement lay. In a future flick, I would:

  • Adjust the speed back to its normal rate at certain points in the video. There are some scenes where it would have made a better experience, such as when I was working on a small detail like applying the glue dots. It also would’ve been a great way to end it so you see the final product as it is just completed.
  • Angle the GoPro camera on the head mount down a few more degrees.
  • Add some background music.

DIY Skyline Kits as Desk Accessories | UncommonGoods

The Skyline Kits made for a great GoPro test run, and I’d definitely recommend them to someone looking for a fun and easy DIY.  What’s even better? I’m left with two new desk additions that visitors can stop and admire. Long overdue, since the Levitron Lamp had been retired for some time now.

 

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 

Research:
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?

Hypothesis:
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.

Experiment:
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

Conclusion:
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: In-Flight Mixology with the Carry-On Cocktail Kit

January 16, 2015

Emily test's the Carry-On Cocktail Kit

Product: Carry-On Cocktail Kit

Research:
As I knew I would be flying for work and the holidays, I thought it would be a great moment to test  the Carry-On Cocktail Kit. According to the description of the product, it had everything you needed to make an Old Fashioned on the plane. The product claimed to be carry-on size, and contained the bitters, sugar, spoon, and even a cocktail napkin.

Carry-On Cocktail Kit | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis:
My biggest concern about this product is whether or not you could get the true Old Fashioned experience on a plane. I usually would make it with a cherry or orange, which would not be available on the plane. I was curious to see if the drink would be as good without these elements. I was also concerned if it would truly pass airport security, as it does contain a liquid.

Carry-On Cocktail Kit Contents
Old Fashioned Instructions

Experiment:
The Carry-On Cocktail Kit is sized perfectly. It fit easily into the side pocket of the backpack I was traveling with, which made it easy for me to access on the plane. Once I got settled, I ordered Jack Daniels and a cup of ice. The kit has very clear and easy to follow instructions, which I used in my test. I poured in the provided sugar packet and then put a few drops of bitters into the cup. I then poured in the whiskey and stirred with the provided metal spoon.
In-Flight Bourbon Old Fashioned
Cheers!

Conclusion:
Overall, it was really easy to use. The cocktail itself was pretty good, though not as good as it would have been with a cherry in it. It was also a fun activity to do while on a plane. It makes two cocktails, so it would be great if you are traveling with another person.
Carry-On Cocktail Kit | UncommonGoods

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Adding a Tropical Twist with Gourmet Island Sugar

December 22, 2014

 

Louise Geller | UncommonGoods

Product: Gourmet Island Sugar Set

Research:

I hadn’t heard of Old Salt Merchants until I saw their product on the UncommonGoods website, but their adorable packaging and interesting flavors prompted me to take a closer look. A family-run business out of Seattle, Old Salt Merchants makes a point of sourcing fair trade sugar, keeping their products cleanly and simply made, and focusing on a small product line of the highest quality. These are all values I really appreciate, and as an avid home cook I’m always looking for new ingredients and ideas for my kitchen, so I knew I’d have fun using the Gourmet Island Sugar Set to develop a great meal.

AllSugars

Hypothesis:

Using the Lime Slice, Jamaican Ginger, Rum Soaked and Coconut Breeze sugars, I will develop a full meal where each dish includes one of the flavors. They will elevate my recipes and inspire me to try out new ideas.

Experiment:

My boyfriend Paco joined me in my quest to find interesting ways to use the four sugars. We went shopping on a Saturday afternoon and came home loaded up with ideas and ingredients.

Lime_done

Lime Slice Sugar
We decided to start our evening with a cocktail. All four of these flavors could most certainly be used as cocktail ingredients and for delicious sugar rims, but we chose the Lime Slice sugar to try out with one of our favorite cocktails: the traditional Mojito. Paco muddled fresh mint and lime while I prepared a dish of the sugar and a bowl of water to line the rims of our cocktail glasses. The Lime Slice sugar is made with raw sugar, so the granules are large and have a great crunch. The lime adds a bit of acidity and a bit of bitterness – it’s not so delicious on its own, but I could tell when I taste tested it that it would add a lot as an ingredient.

Lime1

I can’t stand overly sweetened cocktails, so I liked the idea of a sugar rim that would allow me to control when I got a shot of sweetness and when my sips were more focused on booze and citrus. The raw sugar also added a textural element to the cocktail that we both found very pleasing. Our cocktails would have been delicious on their own, but the Lime Slice sugar rim definitely gave them a little something special. Although we were sitting on my couch and it was 39 degrees outside, I could have sworn we were poolside in Miami.

Lime2

After pre-dinner cocktails, it was time to get cooking! For the side dish to our meal, we decided to also use the Lime Slice sugar. It was autumn when we conducted the experiment, and that means brussel sprouts are everywhere. One of our favorite preparations for brussel sprouts is to sauté them in toasted sesame oil, then splash a bit of sriracha on top. This time, when they were almost done, we sprinkled on some Lime Slice sugar to temper the spice. The results were delectable – all the flavors married together with no one element overwhelming any of the others. We agreed that the Lime Slice sugar made a great addition to this dish, and I’m looking forward to making it many more times during brussel sprout season!

Lime2_Done

Lime2_1

Rum Soaked Sugar

There are many meats that work well with the use of sugar in glazes or marinades, but I definitely tend to think of pork products as standing up best to sweetness (eg pulled pork, maple bacon, glazed ham, spare ribs). The richness of the meat can hold its own next to a sugar-based topping. I generally don’t want to put too much sugar on my meat, but I thought a small amount of the Rum Soaked sugar would go a long way. A small taste test made it clear that “rum soaked” is an apt way to describe this sugar – it is obvious that there are no artificial flavors happening here. I mixed some garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper in with the sugar and rubbed it on both sides of the pork, then seared it on the stove before transferring to the oven (the best way to get a tender and juicy pork chop). As soon as the sugar started to caramelize, it was clear we were going to have some succulent pork chops on our hands. They were delicious – the rum blended fabulously with the other flavors, and the sweetness was present but not overwhelming. The chops were rich and juicy, and we made short work of them.

While I’m personally not a vegetarian, UncommonGoods is an animal-friendly company, so keep in mind that this recipe is my own. This sugar would also work well for vegetarian or vegan recipes, for those who don’t eat meat. Portobellos would make a good alternative to pork. Or, you  could also try this recipe with traditional meat substitutes like tofu.  The Rum Soaked sugar would also make nice glazed carrots.  Just remember that you’d need to add some oil or melted butter to the sugar and seasoning mixture for any of those, because they don’t have their own fat.

Rum_Done

Jamaican Ginger Sugar
The moment I saw the Jamaican Ginger sugar, I knew I had to pull out one of my favorite childhood recipes for chewy ginger and molasses cookies. The recipe calls for the cookie dough to be rolled into balls and then coated with granulated sugar before being baked. I figured this could only be improved by rolling them in sugar infused with the flavors of fresh ginger. The Jamaican Ginger sugar is also raw, so I knew there would be extra crunch on the cookies, which is a definite bonus in my book – I’m all about textural pairings, and crunchy + chewy is a winner. The ginger adds so much spice to the sugar that you can feel it in your sinuses when you taste it on its own. We were a little worried the flavors would be too strong, but we needn’t have been concerned – the cookie has enough sweetness of its own that the extra kick of ginger is nothing but a joy. This was a huge success, and I will soon be making these cookies again for the holidays!

Ginger_Done

Ginger1

Coconut Breeze Sugar
It’s getting chilly in New York, so hot chocolate has been on my mind. I never buy hot chocolate mixes; I prefer to make my own using unsweetened cocoa powder and adding sugar (again, I’m a bit of a control freak about sweetness). I’ve always loved the combination of coconut and chocolate, so I thought it would be fun to replace the regular granulated sugar I would typically use with the Coconut Breeze sugar. I am calling it CocoCocoa (feel free to use that).

Coconut_Done

I usually use about a tablespoon and a half of cocoa and a tablespoon of sugar to make my hot chocolate, but this time I used a one to one ratio because I was worried about the chocolate overwhelming the coconut flavor. My dutch process cocoa powder packs a big punch, and I still only got a hint of coconut in the finished product. It was delicious, but I was hoping for a more balanced flavor. Next time, I will probably use the coconut breeze sugar to sweeten my fresh whipped cream – I think that will help the flavor stand out more.

Coconut1

And of course, I can’t possibly enjoy cookies and hot chocolate without breaking out my UncommonGoods Face Mug!

FaceMug

Conclusion:

As I’d hoped, the Gourmet Island Sugar Set led us to a delicious meal that was outside the norm of what we’d usually make. We also came up with additional ideas for how to use the different flavors as we were working (lime sugar/sea salt margarita rim, ginger sugar with soy sauce and garlic as a beef marinade, and coconut sugar topping for banana nut muffins, to name a few). I felt good about using this product, knowing each flavor only had two ingredients, all the sugar was fairly traded, and that I was supporting a family-owned small business. I’m excited to use them again!

 

 

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: A Grand Adventure

November 28, 2014

Daniella | A Grand Adventure | UncommonGoods

Product: A Grand Adventure Activity Set

Research:

Can this Grand Adventure Game be really fun for a 5 year old? I chose to do this activity with my grandaughter on a Saturday afternoon. We did many activities indoors and outdoors, which was a lot of fun. This gave us the opportunity to enjoy activities together and build beautiful joyful memories filled with smiles and laughter. This set of twenty activities will become a treasured keepsake for the both of us.

1

Hypothesis:

I went in hoping that this set will be a fun learning experience that my granddaughter Jailah would enjoy. I was happy to see  many learning activities provided in the deck. I was also looking for activities that could keep her entertained,  rather than buying a new toy knowing that she wouldn’t play with again.

Activities for Grandchildren

Experiment:

First we spread out the 20 activity cards that were designated for “Little G”–AKA Jailah. Then we took turns completing the activities that were provided for “Big G”–ME! We Started with one activity and continued moving on to the next.

Playing A Grand Adventure Grandparent/Grandchild Game

Conclusion:

Being a Mother and Grandmother you are always looking for a way to entertain your children. This Grand Adventure activity was filled with hours of fun and bonding. Her favorite activities were Buggin’ out, Thumbs up, and Have you heard the one about the funny Grandkid?. I enjoyed all the activies that were included in this game and would definitely recommend this as a gift for all grandparents to share the experience with their grandchildren.

Having fun with A Grand Adventure Activity Set | UncommonGoods