Recycled wrapping paper?

November 18, 2014

I love Wrapsacks, the 100% cotton, reusable giftbags. The thing I like the most about them is the website where you can track where your wrapsack goes, because there is a unique ID code in each one. The recipient will need to enter that code into the website in order for it to be tracked. I love the idea in theory so much, but in reality, I gave away a total of nine gifts in wrapsacks, and only 3 were passed along (and tracked). And none of those three were tracked after that.

If you’re looking for recycled paper gift wrap, I only found one that was both recycled, AND was made in America. The brand that I found was called Waste Not Paper, and not only was it 100% recycled (30% PCW – Post Consumer Waste), and made in America, but it also seems like a good company, doing things right (see their “green story).” I found it at The Container Store.

Recycled Gift Wrap

I found recycled wrapping paper everywhere when I was looking for it last year, but almost all of it was from India. Wow, it was gorgeous paper, and I loved that it was recycled, but I wanted to cut down on the carbon footprint of the paper as much as I could, so I wanted to minimize the transport, and also support American jobs. (I only wrapped one present in actual wrapping paper last year – all the rest were in outdated subway maps, some of the kid’s art projects or newspaper/packing paper we decorated.)


What kettle do you use?

November 17, 2014

What kind of kettle do you use? I think we’re v. similar in terms of doing a ton of research & trying lots of things out to find the best solution to a problem, and I’m currently in the process of doing this for a kettle, and would love your opinion. Bonus points if you know anything about electric kettles…

My favorite kettle.

My favorite kettle.

I use this kettle – the Jenaer brand (now called TrendGlas) all-glass kettle.  I have used this kettle for at least 10 years (I think I’m on my second one – I broke one, but they don’t break easily).  The glass ball at the top does not last at all – it will break off sooner or later, but there is a metal thing inside of it, so even after the glass ball breaks, you can still lift the lid with that metal thing, though I need to use a small towel or an oven pad when the water is boiling.  (You can slightly see the metal nub at the top of my kettle with the glass broken off in the photo that goes along with this post.)

I absolutely LOVE this kettle and would definitely buy another one if I break this one.  I love the way it looks, I love that it’s glass, it’s easy to clean (and more importantly, easy to tell when it’s dirty).  I highly recommend it.

Two quick caveats about this kettle: 1. you have to hold the lid or take it off if you pour a lot of water out of it, or you have a low water level.  This seems like common sense to me, but in reading reviews, apparently, some people were surprised by this.  2. I believe my kettle was made in Germany.  It was called Jenaer when I bought it, and the company has changed over/changed its name/is somehow different, and I think this kettle is made in China.  It is definitely the same, exact style of kettle I have, but I don’t know if any quality changes have occurred.  I have purchased TrendGlas (the new company) products within the past few years and I’ve been happy with them (the glass tea mug I use is TrendGlas – I have posted it a bunch of times, here is one such post).

Prior to finding this kettle, I used a kettle very similar to this one (forget the exact brand), which is less than half the price of the one above, and still works perfectly well.

In case you’re wondering, I use my kettle on a gas stove, and the glass sits directly on the cast iron trivets.  (I think I’ve taken enough photos of my stove for you to get a few views of it.)

I will never buy a kettle for myself that is not all glass.  And, I will never, ever heat up water in plastic (I had a terrible, seemingly unsolvable health problem for years which turned out to be due to heating drinking water up in plastic, and it was completely cleared up once I stopped doing that).  So, if any electric kettles that you are looking into have the water held in plastic, or the hot water going through plastic, I would say in big, big letters AVOID!

Lastly, electric kettles confuse me.  I just don’t understand their purpose, except if a hot stove would be a safety hazard (like for a very elderly person, or in a dorm room or something).  Yes, they heat up stuff quickly, but not THAT much quicker than a stove would.  And, plus, I use my kettle mostly to make tea, and tea is a process.  It is a lovely ritual to make tea.  And, waiting for the water to boil, and to cool slightly, and to see those bubbles, well, it’s all part of the process, and I love it.  So, I am biased against electric kettles for these reasons.  It does not mean they are bad.

In fact, I can see the utility of having an electric kettle, especially if you have an electric stove, because an electric kettle would be MUCH more efficient, electricity-wise, as well as quicker.  This electric kettle seems nice, and it’s glass, but I would never pour the water through that plastic lid on top, and I’d never filter hot water (as it recommends in the description – BTW – I love that it’s referred to as a “high class glass designed electric” kettle).  You should never filter hot water to begin with (it should be filtered before it goes into the pot), and never pour hot drinking water through plastic (see above).

I know you wanted a simple answer, but simple is not my thing.  Neither is “concise,” whatever the hell that means.


Best headphones?

February 6, 2014

I absolutely love the new KEF M500 headphones my wonderful husband just gave me.  He searched high and low for a pair of headphones to replace the Sony MDR-V700s I was using.  Since I switched to the KEFs, I now realize how heavy and uncomfortable the Sonys were.  The KEFs are light, ridiculously comfortable and the sound is perfect.  I also love the way they look – they’re on the smaller side of full-size headphones, look like on-ear headphones, and sound like over-ear headphones.  They are sleek, and best of all, they don’t have a brand plastered all over them! (There is branding on each side, but it’s acceptably minimal in my opinion.)  The device-side of the cable has an angled L-plug, which I find convenient especially when plugging into my laptop, since I’ve got a very cluttered desk and it’s a tight fit.  These headphones retail for $299, but I have seen them on Amazon for as low as $249.  Keep watching!

If you’re looking for a masterfully beautiful album to listen to on such wonderful headphones, I would like to suggest HD from ATOM™ if you like minimalist, pristine, scientific, electronic music that wrenches the soul out of machines and feeds your heart through your ears.  (I’m kind of in love with this particular album.)  The quality of this release demonstrates the quality of the headphones particularly well.


Gift ideas for teachers and other helpful people?

November 22, 2013

Gloves and USB Drives

GREAT GIFTS! And SUPER USEFUL!

I struggle with this every year, and in theory, I believe cash is usually the best gift there is for anyone, anytime, anywhere, but I feel really awkward when I give it to certain people.  So, that being said, here are some gifts I’ve bought for myself and given out to teachers and other really helpful special people that you really can’t spend a fortune on (not that they don’t deserve it)…

  • Aglove texting gloves – I use these ALL THE TIME!  Seriously. They keep your hands warm, they’re comfortable, they work on an iPhone or touch screen, and they’re thin enough for me to keep them on AND get a MetroCard out of my wallet.  If you know me, look at my hands in any kind of chilly weather.  You have seen me wear these gloves.  And, if you’re actually interested in the accuracy of using an iPhone in them, these are the best of the bunch.  The link I gave is for Small to Medium gloves (I have these, they are stretchy).  Here is a link to the Medium to Large ones.  In general, I would get the Small to Medium for women and the Medium to Large ones for men.  At under $10 a pair, they are a nice, useful, relatively inexpensive gift.
  • Toshiba 16 GB USB Drive – There are a bazillion USB drives out there, people.  This is the specific one I like best.  It’s around $16.  Here’s a link to an 8GB one for around half the price.  I like these for a bunch of different reasons.  One, I own two of the 16GB ones and they’ve never let me down.  I like the way they feel in my hand.  I like the little covers, but they’re not attached, so they are easy to lose, if you’re prone to such things.  Also, there is downloadable security software, if you choose to use it (but NO onboard software, which I HATE in a USB drive).  Tell me this, what teacher couldn’t use a USB drive, even if they already had a bunch?  In fact, what computer-using person couldn’t use one of these.  I am all about the useful.
  • Especially for teachers… Quantum Thera Zinc spray!  I mean, come on!  They are exposed to gross kid germs all day long, in closed rooms.  If they attack a cold or flu right at the outset with some zinc, there’s a chance they won’t get sick, or at least not AS sick.  That’s what I’ve heard on good authority, anyway.  Look, it’s under $10 a bottle, and here’s a link to a 3 pack, which brings down the price even more.  Get some for yourself.  I’ve blogged about this particular zinc spray before (follow the link for a picture), because it’s my favorite.  It’s strong!  It helps with sore throats, too.  It’s a gift that says “I acknowledge your selflessness in remaining in proximity to my little snot machine.  Thank you.”  This could be an awkward gift though, so if you do feel awkward about it, just think “well, it’s not as weirdly awkward as cash.”  Hope that helps.
  • If your teacher/helpful person likes tea, this Trendglas Tea for Two set is the best tea mug I’ve found (unfortunately, it’s currently out of stock, but it’s worth waiting for – here’s a similar one for just under $20).  Regarding the Trendglas mugs, I have bought three so far, and I truly love it and so does everyone else who ever comes to my house, plus, it can double as a gravy boat in an emergency!  WHAT?!If you’re going to go this route, make sure this person loves tea.  With a glass infuser, four things are important, IMHO —
    • 1. some of the tea will come through the infuser – not much, but some, but you’re avoiding toxic tea bags (just google that to become scared out of your mind).  You’re welcome!
    • 2. it’s important to have a flat top, not a decorative ball top or rounded top because the top is important as the thing you rest the wet infuser in when you’re actually drinking the tea.
    • 3. The infuser should reach to almost the bottom of the vessel it’s in, for a full brew.
    • 4. In sets like these, the infuser is the most likely thing to break, so make sure there are replacements available.  Here’s a good replacement for the Trendglas mug infuser, though it comes with the not-as-useful ball-top (see sub point 2, above).
  • Lastly, when I really don’t know what to buy and I need something *nice* (you know what I’m saying), I buy a box of  chocolates from Le Maison du Chocolate.  They are expensive, so I tend to keep the boxes small, but they’re really good, high quality, beautiful chocolates.  They have a little-known and little-advertised “frequent buyer” program, so if you tend to buy a lot of these types of gifts, you can get a tiny box of free chocolates for yourself after spending an ungodly amount on other people (story of my life).

If you decide to buy any of these, can you please buy them from the links in this post?  After four years of blogging, I’m finally starting to try affiliate links (though some of the links above are not affiliate links – like the Trendglas one).  I would be recommending these products nonetheless, since I own all of them, and LOVE them and honestly believe they’d be great gifts (even for yourself).


Coffee maker?

September 10, 2013

My very good friend W just sent me an email that said

Any recommendations for a coffee maker? I only drink it 3x a week or so (always just 1 cup), so I don’t need any massive device. Something cheap that can be cleaned easily that I can make decent coffee in.   I feel as though you will get carried away and write a 7 page report on this.

I may get carried away on this, because it’s my nature to get carried away, but
  1. I don’t drink coffee, neither does my husband.
  2. I have a Tassimo, which guests seem to love (for some crazy reason the company sent me one for free), but I think is super toxic (don’t put steaming water through plastic – bad things happen).
  3. I did a lot of research on coffee, because I helped a relative try to improve her health.
The best thing for you is to cold brew organic coffee (put grounds in cold water overnight and brew strongly and then add hot water to that strained liquid in the morning – google for exact instuctions, as I’ve never done it).  It will be have around 60% less acidity and you will reduce your toxin level tremendously by going organic (coffee is one of the most pesticide-heavy consumable crops there is – I say “consumable” because cotton is so much worse!).
If you don’t want to brew it yourself, the coffee brand I bought for my relative because I found it to be very high quality was Kickstand coffee, and you might be able to find a coupon online.  It’s organic, it’s cold-pressed, and it comes in a glass bottle.
Ok, you didn’t ask about any of that, you asked about a coffee maker, so I will say this:
I can’t recommend a brand, but go for anything glass (no plastic, no single-use), and if you use a filter, use a stainless steel filter with no plastic, or VERY carefully selected unbleached paper filters.  Most tea bags and coffee filters are highly toxic because of the plastics they use to reinforce the fibers to make them tear-resistant, and because of the plastics and other materials used to seal the sides (if applicable).  Just google “toxic teabag” and “toxic coffee filter” for more info.

Alert: Ish horseradish!

February 22, 2013

Last week, I was in Forager’s Market and tasted a sample of Ish Premium Horseradish, and people, it was AMAZING.  I ponied up the money (get it?) and bought a jar of the ginger flavor.  It’s amazing on sushi, fish, and I even mixed some with tamari to make a dumpling dip.  I can’t wait to try it on some pork, or maybe even a roast beef sandwich.  Soon, I’ll just start spooning it into my mouth.  It’s made in the Hudson Valley, it’s in a glass jar (bonus points), and it’s good for you.  Plus, Carolyn seemed like a nice person in the 30 seconds that I talked to her while gulping down delicious samples.  Just buy some of this.  Trust me.

Ish Horseradish

Carolyn Sherman, of Ish Premium Horseradish

Epilogue: People, it’s the next day, and I mixed some of my ISH into hummus and had it on Mountain Sweet Berry Farms potato chips (available at the Union Square Farmer’s Market!).  Wonderful!  Try it!


Great books for early middle schooler?

January 30, 2013

I love the New York Public Library and get most of the book recommendations for my son from the wonderful librarians they employ.  My son is just finishing up the exciting fantasy adventure series Septimus Heap.  He is reading the 6th book Darkeand the last volume Fyre comes April 16th, 2013.  Today, I asked Rebecca, a (Super Awesome) librarian at Jefferson Market, to give me recommendations on what to read next, based on my son’s enjoyment of Septimus Heap and similar books.  She suggested:

  • Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson and Greg Call – (we are now on book 3 – AWESOME)
  • Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney, Patrick Arrasmith (came with “it’s spooky and very dark” warning)
  • Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas, Antonio Javier Caparo
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (not a series, it’s a standalone book – I have read this, and it’s pretty good!)
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio (not a series, it’s a standalone book, and apparently, it’s AMAZING, it was the NAIBA Book of the Year 2012 for Middle Readers) – (I have since read this, and it made me cry.  Great book, very touching.)

Also, see a past post about The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy, which is another great book for the 8 – 12 year olds in your life.  We all read this as a family and loved it!

UPDATE 5/29/13: The Books of Umber Trilogy, starting with Happenstance Found by P.W. Cantanese.  I am reading these (just finished book 2 – Dragon Games) and loving them!  Great fantasy action/adventure with good world-building (with some darkness and evil to keep it interesting), for 9-12 year olds!  Strongly recommended!

UPDATE 7/1/14: Dead End in Norvelt and From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos are well-written, funny books, and great for kids (especially boys) in the 10-13 age range.  However, they have “A Christmas Story”-esque humor, so it can get a bit inappropriate, a little old fashioned (in the best way possible) and there are guns in the story (I know a lot of people who are sensitive about mentions of guns in kid stories, thus the warning).


Decadent but healthy holiday treats?

December 13, 2012

Before I go into listing my favorite decadent but (relatively) healthy treats, I need to mention the new holiday tin from Hail Merry.  This past February, I posted about how much I loved their Chocolate Mint Miracle Tart and today, I sampled their Choco Macaroons in the First Love Blue tin tonight at Organic Avenue and they are ridick delish.  They were not overly sweet (but just sweet enough) and the shredded coconut was not overwhelming.  You know how sometimes a large amount of dried, shredded coconut can make something taste a little like soap?  Well, these chocolate macaroons had no trace of that.  Plus, they’re vegan, gluten free, kosher and non-GMO certified.  According to the website, the tin is $20 and includes shipping!  If you want to try them first, you can buy a small four-macaroon (less festive) soft-pack ($3.99 at Organic Avenue).  I bought one of the small packs after sampling one in the store.  That’s right — money where my mouth is, yo.

Hail Merry Choco Macaroons

Gerry from Hail Merry is even prettier in person. You think there’s something to this “raw oils” thing? Duh.

Here are some ideas for some really decadent, but (relatively) healthy treats (in no particular order).  WARNING: all of these are ridiculously rich and decadent and I would STRONGLY advise you against eating an entire package  of any of this stuff at one time.  Seriously, it’s too much.  I’m a big eater, and I’m used to a very high raw-fat diet, and they’re even too much for me.  Portion it out before you start.  If you’re the kind of person who can’t stop yourself half way through a package, don’t even get started with these treats.  Trust me.

  • Sweet Mama’s cheesecake – I buy it at Integral Yoga and my favorites are drumstick, berry, and black and white cheesecakes. 
  • Rockin’ Raw – I like their chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, cinnabuns, mocha cheesecake, banana cheesecake and vanilla pumpkin pudding.   Pity me because I’ve never been to their Sullivan Street store, but I usually buy their stuff at Integral Yoga (chocolate cake exclusive) or Organic Avenue (banana cheesecake exclusive).
  • One Lucky Duck / Pure Food and Wine – Tiramisu.  It’s expensive and it’s small.  I don’t know how often they have it at the restaurant, but it’s usually available at the takeaway shop.  This is the dessert that will make you believe in time travel, if you are prone to believe that some omnipotent, nutritionally benevolent version of yourself from the future is bothering to alter the space/time continuum in order for you to taste miracles.  Yeah, I said that.
  • One Lucky Duck / Pure Food and Wine – Thumbprint cookies – probably available only at the takeaway shop.  I doubt they would have these at the restaurant.
  • Hail Merry Chocolate Mint Miracle Tart – I buy these at Integral Yoga, but I’ve seen them all over the place (some Whole Foods, Lifethyme, Organic Avenue, etc.).  These are good enough to give to someone who claims to hate health food and/or a picky kid.
  • Rawlicious cheesecake – pretty much any flavor.
  • Gnosis chocolate – Fleur de Sel bar – 70% raw dark chocolate, dairy free, gluten-free, organic and refined-sugar-free, with big salt flakes in it?  Yes.  Yes, indeed.  Integral Yoga tends to have better prices than Whole Foods on these.

Gift for a coffee-obsessed freak?

November 7, 2012

Coffee Joulies are a genius gift for someone on your list who is not only so freakishly obsessed with keeping their coffee at the perfect temperature that it’s worth $50 to help them do that, but is also someone for whom you have no other gift ideas whatsoever.

Coffee Joulies

Enter Coffee Joulies, elegantly unnecessary luxury.

These things cool down your coffee if it’s too hot and allegedly keep it just hot enough for hours.  Plus, they’re PRETTY.  And, I have to admit, I love the story.

Two dudes from New Jersey invented them and made their dream a reality via Kickstarter, and they are produced at Sherrill Manufacturing, the only place in the entire United States that still manufactures flatware, and manufactures it out of domestically-produced steel! (That is how I found out about these Coffee Joulie things.  I was looking for American-made flatware and followed a link on the Sherrill site.  I do not know anyone associated with this project/product).  And, oh yeah, not only are they made in the USA, but they’re made out of 85% recycled steel using hydro-power from Niagara Falls.  YEEAAUHHH!


What should I do with all of these outdated subway maps?

September 22, 2012

First of all, you are a hoarder and you need help if you have many years worth of outdated subway maps in your apartment.  Get some therapy before it’s too late and some reality television crew needs to excavate fifty-odd years of life-sediment to recover your corpse for a tearful holiday episode.  That being said, I made paper with all of the many years worth of outdated subway maps I had been hoarding saving.

You will need:

  • old subway maps or any paper you want to recycle into new paper
  • a bucket
  • water
  • a blender
  • a small tub (see pictures below)
  • screen material (most home improvement stores have it; get aluminum because stiffness helps – see step 3)
  • sheet metal cutters to cut the screen material (or heavy duty scissors you really don’t care about)
  • old sheet or pillowcase you don’t mind cutting up (can use regular (non-HeavyDuty) HandiWipes if you want, but the texture of the resulting paper won’t be as fine as it would with a nice sheet/pillowcase)
  • 2 finely textured, lint-free dishcloths (no terrycloth! – see step 3)
  • a place for stuff to dry (see below)
  • time

Step 1 – Soak the paper – let it sit for at least a day (I let mine sit for 3 days).

Step 1 of papermaking

Tear up all your paper and put it in the bucket. Put in enough water to cover the paper pieces by at least an inch.

Step 2 – Make paper pulp

Step 2 papermaking

Put soaked paper into blender, making sure there is enough water to cover by at least an inch. Don’t fill your blender more than 3/4 of the way full.

Step 2b papermaking

Blend until homogenous. Chances are your pulp will be either greyish or brownish.

Step 3 – Form and press the pulp

Step 3a papermaking

Pour pulp into a small tub that is larger than the size of the screen material you cut. P.S. you should cut the screen material into the size of the paper you want to make.

Step 3b papermaking

Place screen in pulp, shaking it a bit, so that pulp covers over the screen completely.

Step 3c papermaking

Gently and evenly, lift the screen out of the water by supporting it from the bottom, so as not to disturb the pulp on top of the screen.

I was supposed to tell you to cut your old sheets/pillowcases to be a bit larger than your screen size, so that you have at least 2″ of cloth beyond the boundaries of the screen on each dimension.  Now you know!

Step 3d papermaking

Gently lay your sheet/pillowcase/HandiWipe cloth over the pulp, so that it is flat and even and doesn’t disturb the pulp.

Step 3e papermaking

Kind of like this.

Step 3f papermaking

Spread out your finely-textured, lint-free dishcloth on a flat surface and get ready to flip your pulp on it, sheet-down. You will need the grace of a gazelle, a cougar’s confidence and the speed of a cheetah. Perhaps you should meditate. I should have suggested this before you had your hands full of formed, wet paper pulp. My bad.

Step 3g papermaking

Kind of like this.

Step 4 – Blot the pulp

Step 4 papermaking

Use the finely-textured, lint free dishcloth to blot the excess water from the pulp by pressing it into the screen, which is still on top of the pulp after you flipped it in the last step.

Step 5 – Peel away the screen

Step 5a papermaking

After blotting, gently run your finger outward along the edges of the screen to pull any wrapped-around pulp off the screen and toward the edges

Step 5b papermaking

Like this.

Step 5c papermaking

Gently lift a corner of the screen to peel it away from the paper. If you blotted enough of the water away in step 4, the paper pulp should be flattened and stuck to the sheet/pillowcase/HandiWipe. If some of the pulp sticks to the edge (like you see in this picture), break it off and flatten it into the sheet below.

Step 5c papermaking

After you fully remove the screen, you can flatten out the edges and make sure your sheet/pillowcase/HandiWipe is flat and not rippled.

Step 6 – Dry and peel – after a few hours, your paper should be dry.  Once it is dry, gently peel it from your sheet/pillowcase/HandiWipe and make sure it dries out completely before stacking and/or storing it.  If you want it flatter, you can iron it with a medium hot iron (no steam).  If you are going to iron it, I would do it through a handkerchief, so as not to get pulp on your iron.

Now go make some homemade holiday cards and/or brunch invitations and send me one!  You’re welcome!


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