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The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Flip & Tumble + Wine Tote + Bentgo: A-leftovering we will go

November 22, 2013

Research

I hate waste. I’m really OCD about it. Disposable shopping bags, takeout containers, and water bottles really bug me. And yet, I do shop, eat on the go, and need H2O. Thus was born my quest for the perfect personal food transport equipment.

3-ItemCollageHypothesis

Our Flip & Tumble Reusable Shopping Bags are light and small and hold a lot. Sounds promising. Our BentGO Lunch Box is good looking. Most of its lunch-toting brethren are decidedly not. It’s also a good size, and except for the lids, microwaveable (for warming up, not cooking), and dishwasher safe. Also promising. Our Wine and Beverage Tote, with its tough canvas outer skin, seems a lot sturdier than fold-up plastic bottles I’ve used before.

Experiment

Step 1: Shopping.

This was mostly accomplished at the Park Slope Food Coop, of which I am an enthused member. A sustainability-minded organization since forever, the coop doesn’t give out shopping bags. Flip & Tumbles are perfect for shopping there. They weigh virtually nothing, open up in a jiffy (faster and easier than any shopping bag I’ve ever used), hold a lot, and are strong and sturdy. The even have a non-slip patch on the inside top of the shoulder strap.

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Here’s how they look full of groceries.

Giftlab food-bags 019-CROPPED

Here are most of the ingredients, spread out. (The bags actually held a lot more than this.)

Step 2: Cooking.

I bought a spaetzle maker no less than 6 years ago, and until now, had never used it. Sound familiar, gadget lovers? I saw this recipe in the New York Times, and knew this was what would make spaetzle happen in my kitchen.

To round out the meal, I decided to make mashed sweet potatoes with lime and honey (the recipe calls them yams, but they are NOT; shame on you, Saveur!) with broiled grapefruit for dessert.

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I put the sweet potatoes in a casserole dish and stuck them in the preheated 350 degree oven.

I then sliced the leeks and cabbage (separately) very thinly in the food processor. I melted a bunch of butter in a big frying pan and sauteed the leeks. But I forgot to take photos of all that, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

CabbageCookingCollage

The savoy cabbage, sauteeing on top of the already-sauteed leeks.

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Above is the mixed white all-purpose, whole wheat, and whole rye flour (yes, I ground it from the berries, here’s why), to which I added an egg and whole milk. It’s supposed to end up like cake batter, not bread dough, so you keep adding milk until it feels right. Because I used whole wheat flour, which the recipe doesn’t call for, I used more milk than recommended, because whole wheat flour absorbs more liquid.

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My spaetzle maker in action, at long last. You pour the batter gradually into the white hopper which you then slide along the holey stainless steel part that’s straddling the pot of boiling, salted water. The dough slips through randomly, drops into the pot, and cooks very quickly, rising to the top.

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It’s pasta…it’s dumplings….it’s spaetzle!

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The recipe calls for thyme, which I conveniently have growing in one of my kitchen windowboxes.

Now it’s time for it to be topped with grated Gruyere cheese, put in a casserole dish, and baked. But wait–where’s that dish?!

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Oh yeah, it was baking these. When I took them out, I didn’t bother cleaning it, because sugary, gooey sweet potato ooze can only improve a dish. I did mix it in, though, so it wouldn’t just burn on the bottom.

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The casserole in a state of baking readiness.

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The sweet potatoes, mashed with a fork and mingling with their new BFFs: butter, fresh lime juice, and honey.

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20 minutes after being put into the 425 degree oven: Done.

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Now for the broiled grapefruit. Easiest thing ever: cut in half, top with brown sugar (or not), turn broiler on, pop in citrus.

~An interlude, during which I eat this delicious dinner, and sleep. A new day dawns.~

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The true and ultimate destiny of this food, of course, was being consumed as leftovers. I added some homemade kefir I put into a can that I’d fished out from the recycling and washed (see above re: “OCD about waste;” also, it was the perfect size), because I thought it would go well with both the casserole and the grapefruit.

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Stick a fork in it–it’s done.

Step 3: A) Eating and B) Drinking

A) The spaetzle dish, like most casseroles, was even better the next day. It nuked up beautifully in its spiffy BentGO container. I ate it in about two minutes flat. No, I will not show you what that looked like. My mother might be reading this, and it would make her cry to see that all those years of table manners lessons were wasted on me.

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B) The Wine and Beverage Tote, alas, was filled only with water, because I was at work. (You think I can write all juiced up? No. I leave that to pros.) For purely scientific purposes, I did fill it with wine the night before. Miraculously, it holds an entire, normal-sized bottle, though you have to make sure the bag is poufed out all the way while (carefully) pouring. I recommend red wine, because the Tote isn’t insulated, so the wine will be at room temperature before long.

I really appreciated its sturdy canvas exterior, because it freed me from the nagging worry that something sharp in my bag might gouge it. If there’d been red wine inside, I would have appreciated it even more–no, not because of the alcohol; because of the potential for mess. (OK, the alcohol, too.) Note that I swapped out the original petite black carabiner with a larger one of my own, partly–but ONLY partly, I swear–because mine is pink.

Recipe links:
New York Times: Rye spaetzle gratin with savoy cabbage, leeks and caraway
Saveur: Mashed sweet potatoes with lime and honey
TheKitchn: Sweet and smoky broiled grapefruit

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make Grilled Cheese (in the Toaster!)

November 15, 2013

Anna Moreno | UncommonGoods

Research
I love a good grilled cheese. The gooey goodness inside reminds me of childhood memories past; always paired with a tomato soup, of course. I first saw the Toaster Grilled Cheese Bags and thought it would be a fun, and super easy, way to make that delicious, buttery comfort food. I’d never heard of such a product before! How simple! Just put it in a toaster! I’m, however, familiar with the iron-grilled cheese approach…enough said. In comparison, that ironing approach is quite barbaric.

Hypothesis
Given my experience with toast, and grilled cheese, I suspect that the sandwiches will be nice and melt-y. However, the warm buttery flavor (that is signature to anything cooked with butter on a frying pan) will be missing.

Experiment
Step 1: Checking out the goods
The Toaster Grilled Cheese Bags are very different than I expected! They’re a silky-papery material. Very tough and pliable. So far, I’m impressed. Three bags are included in the package (wish it was four for those 4 slotted toasters). The grilled cheese in the picture looks really delicious! Nice and golden.

Make grilled cheese in your toaster!
Toaster Grilled Cheese Bags | UncommonGoods

The Ooma Bowl!
I love the clean and colorful look. It’s meant to easily fit into the hand for holding. Overall, the style gets two thumbs up from me. The bowl may also serve as a nice pet food dish? Food on the left, water on the right.

Ooma Bowl | UncommonGoods

Step 2: Assemble the ingredients!
For my experiment I’m making 2 recipes.

First: The Classic. Simple and to the point; white bread, sharp cheddar.

Making Grilled Cheese

Second: Italian Craving–Featuring the Ooma Bowl! Yummy take on the classic done Italian style. My plan is to cut the finished sandwiches into sticks and use to use the Ooma Bowl for easy dipping. Using mozzarella, pesto spread, fresh basil, and sundried tomatoes. For the dipping sauce I’m using my favorite marinara Rao’s Homemade (it’s the best I highly recommend trying it!).

Italian Grilled Cheese

Step 3: Get’m grilled
Attempt Number One:
The Classic. It was pretty simple to get them into the bags. It needed a little maneuvering, but nothing difficult. I have a nice toaster that accommodates bagels. After getting them bagged I put them in, I set the toaster to level 4 and set it into motion.

Easy Toaster Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods

The end result was not what I was hoping for. Setting 4 didn’t cut it. The cheese didn’t melt, and the bread was not toasted enough. Compared to the picture on the packaging, my sandwich was a total fail. Try again…

Sandwich

Attempt Number Two:
OK, so the setting was too low; I overcompensated by upping the game to a level six setting. Also, I was thinking I would try to add some butter to the bread in hopes of obtaining that nice golden buttery glow. I melted 2 tablespoons and brushed the outsides of the bread with a pastry brush. Drum roll please…

I got the taste spot on and beautiful melted cheese. However, I ended up with burnt bread. It didn’t taste bad, but charred is no good either. Also, the butter made the bags all greasy.

grilled cheese

Toaster Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods

Attempt Number Three:
I completed my attempts with the Classic recipe and moved onto the Italian Craving. First things first, I washed the bags. They got greasy from the butter and the melted cheese. Washing was incredibly easy. I used a simple sponge with handle and hot water. I hand dried but noticed that the bags held moisture. I didn’t have time to let them air dry, so I continued on with the sandwich making. I made a total of 4 sandwiches; all of which came out a little darker than I expected. I’m not sure what’s to blame. My toaster setting, the moist bags, the butter; I really am not sure. What I do know is that the sandwiches were tasty. (The chef has to taste their food before it leaves the kitchen).

Italian Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods
Italian Grilled Cheese | UncommonGoods

Step 4: Plate & Taste
Time to eat, drink and be merry. As planned, I cut the grilled cheese into long strips and placed them into the Ooma Bowl. I heated the sauce and added that to the smaller section. Et voila! A culinary masterpiece! (At least for moi, a simple cook.)

Grilled Cheese Fingers with Tomato Sauce

The bowl was easy to hold. Modeled by my fiancé (thank you for your help). Recommended for couch activities such as Sunday sports and Netflix. A delicious end to a full day of ingredient shopping and toaster cooking.

Grilled Cheese Dunk
Noah

Conclusion
Did these match up to the classic grilled cheese? Not completely; however, they were 1. Easy to make and 2. Melt-y and tasty.

Lessons Learned:
1. Don’t apply butter before toasting! It may be good to apply after? Question for thought.
2. The bags need to thoroughly dry before the next use. I later washed, hand dried, and placed on the handle of a frying pan to dry.
3. Toaster settings are key; you need to find the right one. (I have yet to find the right one for my toaster.)

Photo Credit: Moi! Anna Moreno
Model: My fiancé Noah Perkins

Design

3 Easy Steps to Make A Necklace Display

October 17, 2013

Hey you jewelry lovers, I’m Christina from Tales From The Thrift. I’m so used to showing off all my thrift shop finds that sometimes I forget to blog about the projects I conquer when I’m not vintage hunting! Naturally, my projects usually have something to do with actually organizing all of my random finds. Like a lot of other jewelry hoarders, I’m shockingly bad at storing my treasures, almost to the point of embarrassment. Every piece I own — from the fancy gems gifted by loved ones, to my huge collection of thrifted trinkets — gets stuffed into old jewelry boxes and dusty pouches or tossed haphazardly onto my nightstand before bed. Obviously, this strategy leads to plenty of tangles, tarnishing, tears, and loss. But finally, after one missing earring too many and some minor soul-searching, I realized it was time to become a responsible jewelry-owning adult and embark on my first-ever DIY storage project.

Tales From the Thrift

I kicked off my mission with a plan to create a simple display for some of my favorite necklaces. I began scouring a few local thrift stores and stumbled across some wood-framed, canvas art pieces–one black with silver handwriting, and the other with an abstract floral print–at Goodwill. (I ended up abandoning the floral canvas, and sticking with the black/silver piece, which features a poem by Elizabeth Bishop. If you’re curious, you can read it in full here!) I scored both items for around $4.

Tales From the Thrift
What you need: Other than some old wood-and-canvas artwork, just some nails and a hammer.

Tales From the Thrift
Step 1: Hammer your first nail at the top/center on the front of the wooden frame. Make sure you keep the nail exposed by at least a half-inch.

Tales From the Thrift

Step 2: Hammer a few more nails in a similar fashion, evenly spaced on either side of the middle nail, so you end up with a nice, balanced row.

Tales From the Thrift

Step 3: Put the display on your dresser or hang it on the wall, and arrange your necklaces. Enjoy a life free of tangled jewelry.

Tales From the Thrift

For rings, earrings and bracelets, I supplemented my DIY display with a few handmade jewelry stands and holders from UncommonGoods. UG’s gorgeous Hand Of Buddha Stand is perfect for my “real”  jewelry that I wear daily, and I added a light blue Pedestal Holder and pewter Labyrinth Bowl to hold my other assorted baubles.

buddhahand

 

Tales From the Thrift

Tales From the Thrift

Of course, I still have plenty of jewelry stowed away and out of sight, but my DIY display definitely helps me keep my most-loved necklaces organized and easy to find. And best of all, my new set-up is as pretty as it is practical!

Tales From the Thrift

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: How to Make Music by Playing Wine Glasses

September 27, 2013
Major Scale Musical Wine Glasses | UncommonGoods

Research
As a developer of the Major Scale Musical Wine Glasses™, my knowledge of the product is quite comprehensive, but this was my first chance to test a random unit straight off the production floor. In developing these musical glasses, we looked for a glass that would allow for a full A major scale, allowing for more versatile music-making. We used a high-quality lead-free crystal glass here to ensure the best resonance we could achieve.

I’m not a big wine drinker, but you’ll find me sneaking a swig of water every now and again – so I’m conducting this experiment with water as an alternative. I try to keep practice on my violin, but I’m much more likely to produce something resembling music with my finger on these glasses than with my bow on strings – so I’m looking forward to the chance to actually hit the right notes for a change.

Musical Wine Glass Packaging | Uncommon Goods

Hypothesis
Due to variations in glass we knew absolute, orchestral perfection was a bit too aspirational, but we have been pleased to find that the fill lines correspond quite nicely to the note indicated. My hypothesis is that I’ll have a pretty happy match today.

Experiment
Fill ‘er up! I poured to the first note – an ‘A,’ moistened my finger in another glass to allow for smooth movement around the rim, and round my finger went firmly in a circular motion. As I draw my finger around the rim, the alternating slipping and sticking creates a vibration pattern in the glass. The speed of vibration, meanwhile, is affected by the volume of liquid in the glass, and different vibrations will produce different notes. The results of my first attempt?

Playing Music on Wine Glasses

A lovely ‘A’ note resonates through the dining room, accompanied by a hypnotic ripple along the surface of the wine. As you can see…a successful ‘A’!

'A' Note

I toast to a successful first pour and continue on my journey through the A Major scale.

I poured a taller glass and around I went again.

Major Scale Musical Wine Glass | UncommonGoods

Crosschecking with another tuner – a direct hit! SuccEss with a capital ‘E’.

'E' Note

Conclusion

Though slight variations in glass will yield somewhat different performance, a random test proved more than satisfactory to my unprofessional, yet music-appreciating ears. Very content and ready to wet my whistle, I toast to beautiful music with my fiancée and Franklin Broccoli, our almost-real pet bulldog.

Musical Wine Glass Toast

To see and hear these uncommon instruments make music with your own eyes and ears, check out this video of me playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Design

Slate Cheese Board Styled 3 Ways

March 19, 2013

Any apartment dweller knows the plight of a lack of storage. I cringe at the though of single-use items that will take up space on a shelf or counter (oh, how I’m dying for a waffle iron!). Since moving to New York City a couple moons ago, I have started to give a lot more thought to my purchases and make sure everything that enters my tiny apartment will be used. Simply, I don’t buy things that won’t get used frequently!

I spied the Slate Cheese Board with Soapstone Chalk since it was launched on our site months ago but wasn’t sure how often it would get used. Yes, I love cheese – many, many kinds of cheese – but it’s rare that any lasts long enough in my posession to leave out for guests. But the board was too gorgeous in all it’s rustic glory to pass up. So I took it home and gave myself a weekend to see how many times it could get used, finding that there were more uses for this board than meets the eye.

Build your own omelet party After work on Friday I met some friends at the gym to get the weekend started. Afterwards we all came to my place for dinner and I had two main objectives: a) eat some protein to rebuild muscle tissue and b) clean out my fridge. So I threw a “build your own omelet” party and set out the ingredients. It was a self-serve experience so everyone could make their omelet to their liking. I’m glad I got to label their choices so no one picked up an ingredient they didn’t want. The idea was a success and I can’t wait to throw another “build your own” party (sundaes, cocktails, pizza, grilled cheese…).

Movies in Bed Nothing is more fun that lounging in bed on a cold Saturday with your laptop and Netflix, but I always struggle with keeping crumbs from falling out of a lopsided bowl of popcorn. Wondering how the cheese board would fare as a bed-tray, I stocked it with gummy candies, a Mexican Coke and a heaping bowl of lime coconut popcorn while getting under the covers to tackle my growing queue. It did the trick and kept my soda and popcorn level when I readjusted in bed. That night’s sleep was not a story of the Princess and the Popcorn Kernel, thankfully.

Sunday Brunch One of my favorite New York past times is hunkering down after a morning of yoga with the NY Times and a cup of tea. Just sitting all day, leafing through the massive pages that cover my dining table. Since my Sunday brunch is never quite a complete meal – some fruit, nuts, a bagel, maybe a pastry – it was nice to spread out an afternoon’s worth of things to munch on as I caught up on current affairs. I was so comfortable, I didn’t get up until the sun went down and it was time to make supper.