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Kitchen

Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Kim Strassner and Mike Pararas

June 7, 2017

Kim Strassner and Mike Pararas (with dogs Freddie and Sammie) in their Baltimore, MD studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

When we first started doing Studio Tours back in 2012, we were pretty limited on where we could go to get our inspiration. That isn’t to say the inspiration was limited–we’ve visited a fantastic line-up of New York City artists close to home. But getting the sign-off to pack up and head to another state definitely wasn’t the goal from the start. Five years later, we’re still featuring monthly studio visits. Thanks to all of the love and support shown by our online community, makers, and the UG team for our tours, we’re able to keep growing the series. Now, we’re finding ways to stop by the studios of creators a little farther from home. Around 195 miles or so from home, in this case.

My latest trip started at Penn Station in Manhattan, eaaarly in the morning. A few hours later, I arrived at Penn Station in Baltimore, Maryland, where Kim Strassner was waiting for me and our Tabletop Buyer, NéQuana. Kim filled us in on some neighborhood history as she drove through B-more to the studio, woodshop, and office space where she and her husband, Mike Pararas, design and craft their personalized wooden cutting boards and lazy Susans. It didn’t take long before I realized how much work Kim, Mike, and their team put into each board they produce. The letters in the customized pieces are carved using tiny blades, precise hand movements, and great attention to detail.

In addition to walking me through how a slab of wood becomes a beautiful, handcrafted cutting board, the couple gave me a look at Kim’s first-ever board with words, answered a few questions about what keeps them going strong, and introduced me to their two adorable Havanese dogs. Keep reading to see inside this woodworking wonderland for yourself.

 

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Design

Stats Meet Glass: Designing Our Record-Breaking Baseball Glasses

April 3, 2017

Baseball season is officially here, and we can almost hear the fans across America singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Here at UncommonGoods, we’ve been working on a new baseball-themed product for a few months: Record-Breaking Baseball Glasses. We’re excited to launch this new product just in time for baseball lovers to use for their enjoyment of cold beers or sodas alongside those peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Since I dabbled in T-ball and a little slow pitch baseball myself growing up, I was happy to put my baseball knowledge to good use in developing the set.

Record-Breaking Baseball Glasses – Set of 4, designed by UncommonGoods’ Product Development team

In true Product Development form, we often take projects down more than one path. I started the development process by exploring different design ideas (like baseball expressions and baseball pitches) and different aesthetics (for example, using newspaper baseball scores or trading cards as inspiration). Nothing seemed like a good fit.

Vintage baseball card image via Pixabay

We took a step back and asked ourselves, “What do baseball fans like?” and the answer was pretty clear: stats. Baseball fans love statistics, even the most obscure. With that in mind, we took the development of these glasses down a new path that would feature stats.

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Maker Resources, Maker Stories

Inside the Artists’ Studio with Donna and Randall Rollins

February 6, 2017

Randall and Donna Rollins in their Brentwood, NH studio, photos by Cassie Tweten Delaney

Most of us have had those days when we feel stuck in a rut. You know, when you’re sitting at your desk under harsh florescent lights, or walking extra slowly into your office building, or completing the same seemingly unimportant task for the 500th time. For most of us, this feeling creeps in and we start fantasizing about dropping everything and going confidently in the direction of our dreams. While the feeling usually passes, and many weekday warriors just keep fighting that battle against monotony, Donna and Randall Rollins figured that if they had to pour out their time and energy, it was going to be into something they love. 

The couple met while they were both working in corporate America. First they fell in love with each other, and then Donna fell in love with pottery. Then they learned about the healing properties often associated with gemstones from a friend with a PhD in metaphysics, and everything came together: Donna and Randall left the corporate world to start their own clay studio. They slowly grew their business to include family members and employ local artisans, they discovered new ways to incorporate stones and minerals into their designs, and, aside from acknowledging that their business backgrounds gave them the know-how to turn their passion into a career, they don’t do a lot of looking back. 

“We actively made the decision thinking, ‘If we tank, what’s the worst that can happen? We’ll still have each other,'” Randall told me on my recent visit to the couple’s Brentwood, NH studio. “We took that risk and we were willing to lose it all.”  

As you’re about to see in the photos and interview below, Donna and Randall didn’t lose it all, and they’re still hard at work making beautiful pottery and sharing their passion for stones and clay whenever they can. In fact, when our Tabletop Buyer NéQuana and I arrived to the studio over two hours late, thanks to a flat tire, the Rollinses weren’t even fazed. Their team had left for the night, and evidence of a long workday (so many pieces, in all stages of completion!) was all around. Still, they welcomed us like old friends, offered us snacks, and almost immediately started showing us their collections of stones and telling us about the energy in the space.  

Healing Stone Mugs, before the stones are attached

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Maker Stories

Inside the Designer’s Studio
with Hipatia Lopez

August 12, 2016
Hipatia Lopez with the Empanada Fork | UncommonGoods

Hipatia Lopez with the Empanada Fork in her New Jersey Kitchen

While preparing for a holiday feast, Hipatia Lopez found herself facing 100 empanadas that needed closing. She may have finished the project with sore hands, but it gave her the idea to invent the Empanada Fork, a tool that closes empanadas, turnovers, and pastries in no time.

While many of our Studio Tours give readers a look inside creative spaces of makers of handmade goods, Hipatia’s story is a little different–and must-read for anyone who’s ever thought-up a problem-solving product, but isn’t sure what to do next. Hipatia wasn’t trained as a product designer and didn’t have a line of inventions to her name, but she was motivated. She knew she was on to something, and decided to take the next step and turn her idea into the real deal.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to physically travel to Hipatia’s home in New Jersey to learn about her process, but through phone calls, emails, and snapshots, Hipatia helped me create a virtual tour of her creative space (and kitchen). 

Empanada Fork with Dough | UncommonGoods

The Empanada Fork in action

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Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Indoor Grilling Made Easy with the Flipside Stovetop Grill

June 28, 2016

Louise Gift Lab

 

Product:

Flipside Stovetop Grill

Research:

As the Inventory Planner for our Tabletop category, I am usually one of the first to get a sneak peek at the new items being added to our assortment of kitchen and cooking tools. When NéQuana, our tabletop buyer, showed me the Flipside Stovetop Grill, she thankfully noticed when my eyes lit up and offered to let me take it for a spin.
I’m a lifelong New Yorker, which means not only do I not currently have my own outdoor space, I have never had my own outdoor space. I dream of one day having a space to grill outside, but given that that time is still in the future (and that even when it happens, there will still be winters), a grill pan has been on my kitchen wish list for a while. I was particularly drawn to the Flipside Stovetop Grill because it is wide enough to cover two burners, and being able to cook in larger batches is always appealing to me – doing multiple rounds in the same pan is a pain, messy, and the first batch gets cold while subsequent batches are being cooked. When it was pointed out to me that the “Flipside” of the grill pan acts as a griddle, I was sold. It came home with me that very night.

Hypothesis:

MY LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.

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Maker Stories

This Just In-spiration: Meet Sarah Grange

May 18, 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 Sarah Grange, the artist behind our new embroidery hoop art collection.

Sarah Grange | UncommonGoods

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Growing up my parents always encouraged me to be creative and gave me the freedom (and the craft supplies) to do so. Around 8 years old, I decided that when I grew up my best friend and I would open an art studio/veterinary office.  While my life goals have become a little more realistic over the years (i.e. I’m probably not going to veterinary school anytime soon/ever), I’m basically that same girl.  I’m still dreaming/working towards that goal of having the perfect studio where I spend every day supporting myself by doing what I love.

What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
Graduating college and starting my small business, Kitsch & Stitch, has been one of my greatest and most exciting accomplishments.  To look back on the past two years and see the growth that has come out of the long days and nights spent designing and embroidering is incredibly motivating.  But most of all, seeing that people appreciate my creativity and work enough that they want it in their homes is one of the most exciting and motivating aspects of what I do!  Hearing that someone loves their new embroidery hoop or that it made the perfect gift for their loved one makes my day.

Sarah Grange | UncommonGoods

What does your typical day in the studio look like?
Caffeine, good music, lots of thread and fabric, and two adorable kitties (even when they’re biting at my ankles while I work).

Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
The walls and shelves in my studio are filled with art and objects that are inspiring and important to me.  I’m a bit of a collector and I love to have all sorts of art, heirlooms, and vintage knick-knacks in my space.  My antique embroidery book that belonged to my great-grandmother is one of my most treasured items.  It’s inspiring and motivating to think that women in my family have been embroidering/sewing for centuries, and here I am continuing the craft tradition (but in a very different way).

Sarah Grange | UncommonGoods

Imagine you just showed your work to a kindergartner for the first time. What do you think he/she would say?
 “Ooo what does it do?” or “Why?”
It’s been a while since I talked to a kindergartner, but I feel like these are pretty popular questions among 3-5-year-olds.

What quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
It’s a toss up between “Fake it till you make it” and “If it’s not alright, then it’s not the end,” but both essentially serve the same purpose for me. I’ve found that at times when I’m feeling intimidated or having trouble believing in myself, the best plan of action is to push those thoughts aside and keep moving forward, even if I’m not totally sure of where I’m headed.  At times when I’m doubting myself or my work, these mantras get me going again.

Sarah Grange | UncommonGoods

 

Sarah Grange | UncommonGoods

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.

Get the Molecular Mixology Kit!

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: DIY Brunch Ideas (& Recipes!)

November 11, 2014

Laura Frost | UncommonGoods

Product: Itty Bitty Mixer, DIY Butter Kit, Egg Separator

Research:
Brunch on the weekends in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has plenty of great options. But, there are also really long lines for omelets or pancakes or waffles. My boyfriend and I love brunch at home where we can relax in PJs and sip our coffee without food-deprived crowd of folks waiting for breakfast. Only snag is that we usually want different things. He’s not big on the pumpkin craze, and I’m a fan. He prefers waffles and I like light little pancakes. Will we have a happy brunch despite our differences?

DIY Brunch Ideas | Kitchen Tools | UncommonGoods

Experiment:
The two-different-items-brunch menu also gives me the excuse to use the Itty Bitty Mixer! I’m not a huge fan of kitchen gadgets, but this one is pretty great. I love the handcrafted ceramic design. It’s also very practical for making two different pancake flavors, omelets, and dressings. (Seriously, I could do a whole separate blog on small-batch dressings.)

PJ Brunch for Two Menu:

  • Apple Sauce Waffles for Him
  • Pumpkin Pancakes for Her
  • Coffee Required

The night before my planned PJ Brunch I made some fresh butter and roasted pumpkin. I started off with the roasted pumpkin. I cut a sugar pumpkin in half. Sprayed a foil-lined cookie sheet with oil, and roasted them for 40 minutes at 425 degrees. While the pumpkin was in the oven I opened up the DIY Butter Kit so I could have fresh cinnamon-sugar butter for my waffles and pancakes.

The butter kit is really nice to look at, but not the fastest butter to make. Even though I was starting the night before, I didn’t give myself quite enough time. The kit’s butter recipe requires 3 ingredients and 120 minutes (60 of those minutes is just running a mixer). Dilemma: fresh butter is unbelievably good. It’s especially good using it as a spread rather than baking it into something. My waffles and pancakes deserve the best!

I have to confess here, I’ve used a simpler butter kit in the past that required less than 45 minutes, heavy cream, and a jar. I took this route with the butter kit so I still got the awesome fresh butter despite my poor planning.

DIY Butter Kit | UncommonGoods

I had already bought my favorite heavy cream, poured it into the kit’s jar and shook it for about 25 minutes. It’s fun to watch the cream turn into whipped cream then morph into a happy golden blob of fresh butter. The butter then gets rinsed in cold water. That leftover milk in the jar is buttermilk. It’s great to save for pancakes or waffles. (More on that later…)

I divided up my butter so I could make the cinnamon-sugar butter and use the kit to make tomato basil butter, and still have plain butter left over.
Homemade Butter with the DIY Butter Kit

Butter’s done. Pumpkin’s done. Time for bed. Happy brunch in my PJs in the very near future!

Saturday morning- PJ Brunch part one! I want pumpkin waffles with the freshly roasted pumpkin. My guy wants apple sauce waffles with some of the apple sauce I made the previous weekend. I set up shop in the kitchen so I could easily get started. I first made a large batch of batter that I could split for the pancakes and waffles. I put about half the batch into my Itty Bitty Mixer (did I mention I love this thing?!). I then added about a quarter cup of my fresh pumpkin puree. The Itty Bitty Mixer allows the ingredients to blend together quickly and smoothly. It’s also easy to pour the batter out onto my pan.

Making pancakes with the Itty Bitty Mixer

While my pancakes were cooking I put the remaining pancake batter in the Itty Bitty Mixer along with the homemade apple sauce.

Homemade waffles with the Itty Bitty Mixer

The fresh cinnamon-butter was the perfect addition to the pumpkin pancakes and apple sauce waffle.

Homemade brunch with fresh cinnamon butter

Sunday morning-I was on my own for brunch. Not a glum morning, though. I had just enough eggs in the fridge for one omelet!

PJ Brunch for One Menu:

  • Heirloom Cherry Tomato & Basil Egg White Omelet
  • Tomato Basil Butter Crostini
  • Coffee Required

The night before, I was again making butter. This time it was just blending the fresh butter with the DIY Butter Kit’s tomato basil seasoning. I measured out a teaspoon of the seasoning mix and let it soak in ½ teaspoon of warm water as the instructions noted. Then I blended about two tablespoons of the butter using the kit’s spreader. Result: tasty and pretty butter blend.

Homemade Herb and Tomato Butter

Sunday morning and I’m ready for an omelet! I have my Itty Bitty Mixer ready to go along with the Egg Separator also made by Karen & Stephen Steininger.

Egg Separator and Itty Bitty Mixer | UncommonGoods

Ok, so again, I’m not big on the gadgets. When I typically separate egg yolks from whites I just use the egg’s shells, pouring them back and forth until I’m only left with the yolk. Honestly, I usually ruin a fair portion of the eggs when I try this trick. The Egg Separator is ideal, however. The yolk willing hung back while the white slipped right through the gap in the cup. Also, the lip on both the Egg Separator and Itty Bitty Mixer are well-designed for cracking an egg.

Separate eggs easily | Stoneware egg separator

I whipped up airy egg whites in the Itty Bitty mixer and poured them straight into my hot, non-stick skillet. I then added slices of heirloom cherry tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. While my eggs cooked on medium low heat I toasted my French bread.

Homemade Veggie Omelet

I folded the omelet just to finish it up. Next I put the tomato butter spread on my bread, then plated it all together. Such a happy plate of goodness!

Delicious Brunch

Conclusion:
The tools I used did make for two pretty great brunches. My boyfriend and I got to share brunch, get what we each wanted, and managed to stay away from crowded brunch hot spots. Plus, I had a happy brunch for one the next day. The DIY Butter Kit could be complicated, but does help make some pretty wonderful butter and butter blends. The Itty Bitty Mixer is currently my favorite thing in my kitchen. In fact the design of the mixer and Egg Separator are so nice they’ve both earned a permanent home displayed on my counter.

Recipes:
Apple Sauce Waffles
(Serves 2)
1 ½ cups pancake mix
¾ cup skim milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup chunky apple sauce
½ tablespoon oil (olive oil, vegetable, etc)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the mix, skim milk, egg, vanilla and oil. Air is your friend. Whisk so mix is smooth without chunks of pancake mix. Whisk in the apple sauce. (You may want to add more milk if the apple sauce does not make the mix into a smooth-pouring batter.)

Turn on your waffle iron to the desired temperature. I crank mine all the way to the “dark” setting for a crispy-on-the-outside waffle. While the waffle iron heats up, your batter needs to rest for a couple of minutes.

Once the waffle iron is at temperature, spray your iron with non-stick spray and slowly pour in your batter. Don’t leave it unattended—the mix might expand. Just open the waffle maker for a second if need be.

Once your waffle is browned and cooked through, pop it out on a plate. Top with happy cinnamon butter and enjoy!

Pumpkin Pancakes
(Serves 2)
1 ½ cups pancake mix
¾ cup skim milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
(You can most certainly use pumpkin spice instead of mixing your own spices.)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the mix, skim milk, egg, vanilla and spices. Air is your friend. Whisk so mix is smooth without chunks of pancake mix. Whisk in the pumpkin. (You may want to add more milk if the pumpkin does not make the mix into a smooth-pouring batter.)

While your batter rests for a moment, heat a non-stick pan on medium heat. Just before you pour out your pancakes spray the pan with non-stick spray. When the pancakes begin to bubble and they’re golden brown on the bottom flip them over. Once that side is golden brown remove the pancake. As you plate them top with happy cinnamon butter and enjoy!

Egg White Omelet with Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes and Basil
(Serves 1)
3 egg whites
Olive oil or butter
Heirloom cherry tomatoes (or any tomatoes) thinly sliced
Basil chopped
Salt & Pepper

Heat a non-stick pan over medium low heat. Whisk the eggs whites—air is an omelet’s friend! Don’t let the eggs rest. Go straight from whisking to pouring the eggs into the pan. Season the eggs. As the eggs set gently drag a fork through them so the whites cook. As the omelet is setting, add the tomatoes and basil. Once the omelet has set, with the top still a bit wet, but not runny, fold your omelet. Once heated through plate and serve.

If you have good French bread, toast this up before you start your omelet and use the Butter Kit’s tomato basil butter. Enjoy!

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