Shopping


Last week, I attended the Independent Garden Center show in Chicago hoping to find 3 – 5 cool new products to review for 2011. I thought I had everything I needed when I left Thursday to stand in line for the elevator. Luckily, I ran into Jim Luurs, owner of Luurs Garden and Flower Shoppe (near the border between Hillside and Elmhurst, Illinois) so I had to ask, “What was the one cool thing that stood out so well you absolutely have to include it in your store?” Without hesitation Jim said, “Well, there is ONE really great thing and you’re gonna love it. Let me show you.” And with that, we walked to his truck where he had samples of what I gotta say is indeed a really nifty tool for creating raised beds without screws, bolts, drills, handymen or uncooperative husbands.

The M Brace: An artful corner tool to build a raised bed with pre-cut boards.

Honestly, this is so nifty and artful and easy to use, you’ll wonder why it took so long to be invented. Just arrange your braces where you want the bed to be, plop in the wood, fill with dirt and plants. That’s it. You can even use recycled wood from old fences or barns for a weathered look. I’d like to see someone try using bamboo or other materials. And since the steel is 16 gauge, the brackets support almost any length of boards.

(Click on any image to enlarge)

 

Three photos showing steps to building a building with M Braces.

I was really amazed at how easy it is to use the M Braces. It really is just a matter of slipping the boards in the corner slots. Technically, I don't think you even need your boards to be exactly the same length. And while the M Brace is available in a powder coated surface that resembles rust, the plain ones will rust naturally in your garden creating a really cool artful patina.

 

 

Raised bed showing use of M Brace for corners and modern drought plantings.

Not only do M Braces function, they are decorative, offering several designs to choose from, and come plain-ready to rust and powder-coated to resemble rust. Check out the gallery on the website for more examples or the how-to video below to see just how easy they are to use.

 

A woman named Jill Plumb, former high school teacher and avid gardener, invented it. Jim said, “She’s really got her act together. She’s already gotten this patented and produced right here in the USA.”

Now I consider myself handy with a drill but honestly, I’d rather focus on the growing and less on the building so I think The M Brace is a nifty thing. The fact that it’s made in the USA from 100% recycled steel and will gather a groovy rusty surface over time, only adds to the artfulness of Jill’s designs.

Jill’s Nifty Idea.

So of course, I just had to call Jill and learn more about how she came up with this idea and the responses she’s been getting. She got the idea in January 2009 while dealing with her own difficulties in building her raised garden beds. After struggling with the corners, she took a break to make dinner. When refilling her napkin holder while dinner was cooking, she had one of those knock on the side of the head moments where it all just connected. She immediately saw the correlation between a basic napkin holder and a new, amazingly easy way to build a raised bed without tools.

Her background as a high school teacher was instrumental during product development. “You’ve got to know your stuff if you’re teaching teenagers, so research was the easy part for me,” Jill explained as we discussed all the product design and development tasks required to create The M Brace. The biggest challenge, according to Jill, has been the rapid manufacturing ramp up needed to meet the unbelievable demand. She didn’t think it would take off as quickly as it has; she expected to have 2 – 3 years to ramp up. But because of the fast ramp up, she’s also able to start bringing the prices down because she’s scaling up production so quickly to meet demand.

 

Aerial shot of Jill kneeling by a 4 by 4 raised bed using M Braces. Bed is planted with vegetables.

Jill Plumb, former high school teacher, now local & eco-focused garden tool inventor.

 

Even with the frantic ramp up, she’s passionate about keeping production local and environmentally friendly. “I won’t make these in China,” Jill said during our phone call. In fact, her factory is 15 minutes from home and she’s looking to add a midwestern plant to keep transportation costs as low as possible across the US. Eco ethics is such a passion, she wants to ensure that nothing she does “…will mess up the planet. It’s wonderful to produce something with recycled materials.” In fact, Jill is so passionate about local sourcing and gardening that her back yard is part of a local CSA.

She’s also committed to using recycled materials. In fact, all the steel is 100% recycled; even the cutouts from the laser cut designs get recycled back into products like edgers and plant stakes. And the powder coating option, available through some retailers, is non-toxic and biodegradable. Jill said she feels very lucky to be able to make these choices herself on behalf of other gardeners who are just as passionate about our planet.

“It takes a village to raise a product.”

When asked what her family thinks of her new venture she replied, “They think it’s a crack up! My husband’s been a wonderful cheerleader, even swapping roles at home to make this possible. He’s really amazing.”

 

Angled photo of empty bed showing how M Braces are holding the corners together.

Jill’s biggest reward is seeing the light bulb go off for someone who’s just been introduced to the product. “It makes me smile when they see how easy it is to use.”

 

Of course, the challenge with any new product these days will always include the local vs. overseas dilemma. While the bulk of Americans are hooked on cheap goods from sweatshops overseas, there’s an increasing awareness and concern that is starting to drive a local focus.

Let’s hope Jill can continue to fend off the so-called business experts who want to see her produce these cheaper with questionable materials in China and a less local focus. For now, she’s a leading example of inventors/start up business owners who create a niche from their passions. Way to go Jill!

Resources:

Luurs Garden and Flower Shoppe, Hillside, Illinois is expected to be selling The M Brace in the near future. Just contact them for more info.

There is also a list of retailers on Jill’s website but of course, this is expanding faster than they can update the site. So contact them if you’re not finding a retailer in your area.

I have in my grubby little paws (and they are grubby with all the Spring gardening this month), 2 coupons for free pints of Coconut Bliss Ice Cream!! Yes, you can be rolling in cold cold bliss made lovingly by Luna & Larry.

All you have to do to be entered to win a coupon is:

  1. Leave a comment to this post (not any other post, THIS one) with a recipe or idea for a recipe using one of the Coconut Bliss flavors found on their website.
  2. Leave your comment by Monday, June 14 at 7:00 pm Central Standard Time.

I will select 2 winners at random using a random number generator. Each winner will receive 1 coupon for a FREE pint of Coconut Bliss. Make sure you read the Legal Dogma below BEFORE you enter, K?

First Recipe

To get the ball rolling, I am contributing the first recipe. This is a good one and timely because it will help cool you down after a long day of gardening in the humid Spring we’ve been having.

Detroit-Style Ginger Rum Float

  • 1 or 2 scoops of Coconut Bliss Pineapple Coconut Ice cream
  • 1 ounce of rum
  • 12 ounces of Vernors Ginger Ale
  • Maraschino cherries on a fancy drink pick for your garnish

Place ice cream in tall float glass. Add rum then slooooowly add ginger ale. Vernors is potent stuff so go slow. If you don’t use Vernors Brand ginger ale, I cannot be held accountable for the results. Other ginger ales are pussies compared to the stout nature of Vernors. Indeed, Vernors is the only real ginger ale, IMHO!

Legal Dogma

Winners will be notified by email so be sure to include your address during submission or I’ll have to go to the next random number.

I’ll mail your coupon to you via US Post. It’s up to you to find a retail store in your neck of the woods where you can redeem your coupon. As for online retailers, I don’t really know if it’s possible to use the coupons online so if that’s your goal, it’s up to you to research that and figure it out. I am not responsible for sending you a pint of ice cream. Really, the coupon’s it d00ds.

Oh, and you’ll have to pay your own taxes. While the pint is free, retailers will generally still charge you sales tax.

These little pints usually retail for over $5 at small mom and pop grocers or Whole Paycheck Foods.

Good luck!!

I’m sure this won’t be the end of my holiday gift list, I’ll add more as they occur to me or as the sales are announced.

For your favorite gardener:

Ethel® Gloves has launched a Bamboo Glove in time for the holidays. Not only are they made from eco-friendly bamboo fabric, they are VEGAN, containing no latex. Most latex contains casein to ostensibly give it that little extra stretch. Not only do vegans have to seek out vegan condoms, we also have to consider the latex used in clothing items. Ethel has eliminated that worry for us by also converting their regular line of gloves to contain no latex as well. BUT, there may be some of the old model Ethel gloves still in stores. If you want to ensure you get a vegan pair, contact Ethel directly, at least until the retail stores turn over all their merchandise. SPECIAL DEAL: enter BAMBOO in the coupon code box and get 20% off your orders from now until end of December. This includes non-bamboo items.

In case you haven’t heard, gardeners have been all abuzz this year about the latest weeding tool, the CobraHead®. Comes in long and short handled versions. The CobraHead is actually an very ingenious little design and actually looks kinda like a snake. Weeds will cower in its path.

And gift certificates or unusual seeds from favorite seed catalogs are always welcome. After gardens are put to rest in November, gardeners love nothing more than scoping out seed catalogs in preparation for Spring. My favorites are family-owned, small seed companies such as:

  • Johnny’s Seeds
  • Botanical Interests
  • Kitazawa Seed was started by the Kitazawa family prior to WWII. After surviving the relocation camps of the war, Gijiu Kitazawa restarted his company and expanded to ship across the US. Today, they’re a source for dento yasai or traditional heirloom vegetables of Japan.
  • Renee’s Garden seed company is owned and operated by Renee who personally selects all seeds, looking for unusual and heirloom varieties.
  • Baker Creek also offers many rare heirloom seeds and maintains an old-style working pioneer farm. Can no longer recommend Baker Creek due to the lack of functionality of their shopping cart. If you don’t order by some unspecified amount of time after filling your cart, the cart empties without warning. Even if you’re logged into your account. So, if you choose to risk it, don’t run to the kitchen for a snack or take a break while shopping to water the garden. There’s no way to tell how long you have until the shopping cart dumps it’s load and you have to start over.

Allow your gardener to bring the fragrances of summer indoors this winter with Strawberry Hedgehog’s handmade soaps (vegan of course). Fragrances include pumpkin spice, lavender, spiced tea, tea-tree rosemary, and orange clove.

And finally, for gardeners of wee things, you can’t go wrong with a hand crafted fairy door from Nothin’ But Wood.

Gifts for the cook.

I’ve blogged about this vinegar before and it’s still my favorite: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from The Olive Mill. This is a small shop in Geneva, Illinois and while they do offer many more items than the traditional balsamic, it’s still my favorite.

Most vegans I know can’t really afford expensive delicacies like Dr. Cow nut cheeses. This is why Dr. Cow’s products make nice gifts (hint hint).

Send your sweet-toothed vegans on a shopping spree with gift certificates from The Bleeding Heart Bakery who make awesome vegan pastries and cakes.

To-Go Ware makes some of the coolest lunch containers and eco-friendly bamboo cutlery. They’re also offering 30% off all purchases from now through Cyber Monday. Just enter THANKS30 into the coupon field when placing your order.

Earth First Farms rents organic apple trees and sells shares in their annual apple CSA. They do have awesome apples and IMHO, make the best organic apple cider, period. For those who don’t know, ciders are special blends that are unique to each orchard. THAT’s why they all taste different and the crap you get at Jewel is, well, crap. Personally, I’d love to have a share in Earth First’s annual CSA because it allows you to taste all the apple varieties they grown AND snag some of their awesome cider.

Make a donation on behalf of your favorite vegan via Farm Sanctuary or adopt a turkey. This is the one time where the recipient will actually appreciate donations made on their behalf. You can also buy t-shirts, buttons and other items in the Farm Sanctuary store, proceeds benefit all critters of course.

It seems like most vegans really have a thing for vampires or zombies.

That said, you might consider giving some twisted and sick artwork from Cuddly Rigor Mortis, specifically, take a look at Lychee Zombie and Peppermint Gimp.

This little Zombie Cupcake charm from Monster Kookies is also a great stocking stuffer for that vegan zombie fanatic.

Perfect kitchen knife system for the zombie in all of us.

And of course, very cool dishware from Folded Pigs.

What the hell are you going to serve the vegan who comes to xmas dinner?

Forget the Tofurky roast and look for Match Meats to win serious points with the vegans of your family. Match is ramping up sales of their holiday roast so check out their website for locations of the roast or order their products from Cosmos or VeganEssentials.

And just in case you’re serving wine with your holiday feast, check it against Barnivore’s list to ensure your vegan guests can drink it.

For XXXtra fun this holiday season:

Babeland.com is offering free shipping on all holiday orders over $50 from now until December 10, midnight PST. Unless of course you live in one of those unfortunate states that infiltrates your bedroom by banning adult toys (guess you can tell how I feel about THAT level of government snooping). Babeland is owned by Claire and Rachel, two real-world gals who are all about empowerment of women and couples—not a sleazy, icky, bigass company hocking cheap junk near truck stops. They also offer educational classes and workshops for women and couples. Claire and Rachel have even written an encyclopedic book on adult toys and um, yes, it is, um rather in-depth. Yeah, I’ve read it, ok I own it. The kind folks at Babeland are here to take the fear and embarrassment out of sex while ensuring you have a safe and friendly source for whatever toys and information you’ve been wanting.

Here’s hoping you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

Ok, this is a quickie, no garnishes and poor photography. Would really benefit from a spring onion or chive garnish on the dip itself. Made the black bean dip really fast this morning.

lunch-120508

Contents:

  • Black bean dip, recipe below
  • Green beans
  • Mushrooms stuffed with bean dip
  • Dippers are red pepper and kohlrabi slices

Black Bean Dip

I didn’t measure unfortunately because I was in a hurry. I just kept adding spices until it was yummy. Here’s approximately what I did:

  • 1 large can of black beans
  • 2 glops of minced garlic from a jar
  • about a T. powdered onion
  • about 1 t. ground fennel
  • about 1 t. cumin
  • dribbles of jalapeno hot sauce until it was spicy enough
  • no more than 1 t. liquid smoke
  • salt

All that in a food processor and process while chopping veggie scoopers. Taste and adjust salt, hot sauce and liquid smoke. Go easy on the liquid smoke, it can get too smoky tasting.

If you garnish yours, it will look nicer than mine. Maybe take time to top with shredded Teese® Cheddar or Nacho Cheese. I didn’t have time to do that this morning but will next time. You can get Teese® cheeses in Chicago at the Green Grocer.

Last week I posted instructions for making reusable shopping bags by recycling old T-shirts. This week, I want to tell you about ReJavanate, a project from Renovos that sells reusable bags from recycled burlap coffee bags. This is truly a great story on three levels:

  1. It reduces landfill waste.
  2. Provides jobs for the disabled.
  3. Creates hip and durable burlap shopping bags for you.

Their website contains some interesting facts. For instance, 800,000 tons of burlap is sent to landfills annually in just the US. Add this to the numbers surrounding plastic bag usage and the issues developmentally disabled persons have finding jobs, and ReJavanate is an excellent program all ’round.

You can also get plain bags or have your own logo imprinted.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have no stake in this company nor have they sent me any free products or bribes. I just think that keeping more stuff out of our landfills and providing jobs for those less fortunate is a good thing.

Is it vegan? Yes, no animals were harmed yada yada yada.

DH and I went to the dollar store yesterday in an attempt to scoop up cheap Halloween goodies but alas! Very few Halloween themed candies were vegan. All the gummy brains, worms, eyeballs and other gross body parts had gelatin. All the chocolate was milk chocolate. And they threw whey into everything else for good measure.

But I did score some non-candy goodies, some of which will help me make my own.

Wait, let’s back up. To get the following goodies, you need to find the nearest Dollar Tree store. That’s the store with the mostest. And everything really is a buck. (Deal’s also has an ok selection of Halloween goodies but not everything is truly a buck.)

Ok, here’s what I got in my treat bag:

  1. 1 silicon pumpkin ice cube tray, already tried it with chocolates and works fine for a buck
  2. 1 set of scary cookie cutters: witch’s hat, ghost, skull, 2 pumpkins and a bat
  3. lots of stickers to put all over DH’s bento lunches this month
  4. cool bottle stickers that label contents as Ye Olde Spider Venom and such
  5. Sour Dudes straws that appear to be the only gummy-like candy without gelatin
  6. Monstaz Pops, sugar suckers shaped like bloodshot eyeballs and skulls

I think as far as vegan Halloween candy goes, I’ll have to make my own. Here are my VeganMoFo Halloween plans:

  • cocoa sugar cookies in the shape of bats, coffins and tombstones
  • blood-filled cupcakes
  • marshmallow ghosts
  • green ectoplasm
  • creepy cockroaches

If I can figure out how to pull these off, I’ll post photos and the recipes.

But for now, tomorrow’s vegan bento lunches will be decorated for Halloween, and I’ll post photos. Maybe I’ll simmer some bloody entrails for DH’s lunch too! You can’t celebrate Halloween too early!

Now, I gotta go dig out my skull mug from the cupboard…

Trying to satisfy my craving for chocolate flavored Temptation® ice cream with the mint chocolate chip flavor is just not working. I think it’s because I’m just not a big fan of mint with my chocolate although I know a lot of folks love this combo. And I must admit, qualitywise, it’s a really good rendition of mint chocolate chip. BTW, this is authentic mint so there’s no fluorescent green color or anything. Just pure flavor.

The Green Grocer was completely out of chocolate and chocolate chip cookie dough flavors tonight, so I compromised. I thought that if I doused the mint ice cream in a sweet chocolate hot syrup and topped it all with peanuts, I would notice the mint less.

Nada.

But for those of you who adore mint chocolate chip ice cream and require a vegan version, this is it. The Chicago Soydairy makes another winner. Here’s a photo of my rendition with homemade chocolate syrup and peanuts.

Now, pardon me while I grab a straw and go for the giant bowl of leftover chocolate syrup….

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