Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mid century atomic clock plus the art and science of pricing

I've said it here before. Sometimes you visit four thrift stores in one day and find nothing. Other days you find nothing...except something like this. It's a mid century atomic style clock, like the George Nelson ones that everyone so loves. This one is by Seth Thomas, so a period knock-off of sorts. It's still quite a nice thing and I paid very little for it since even the reproduction Nelson clocks go for several hundred to a thousand dollars each.

I debate sometimes whether I ought to share pricing; what I paid for things I mean. On the one hand, I don't want people who visit my little shop to be offended by my marking up items I find in thrift stores and consignment stores. On the other hand, I do spend quite a lot of time and gas thrifting. I visit stores around 50 miles away on a fairly routine basis looking for mid century pieces. And then I spend even more time looking in books and at auction results and at other websites to identify the things I find. Then I spend time and effort and supplies cleaning up the things I find. They are almost always dirty. Wood is dry. Silver is tarnished. All that is worth something.

When I first started looking at vintage items, I started with the DC Big Flea. At the time, I was more into Art Deco objects than Mid Century, but there was a nice older gentleman (and I don't use that term lightly) who consistently had such interesting objects at such very reasonable prices. And over the years, I bought many things from him. 

I asked him once why his prices were so reasonable. And what he told me has stuck with me all these years. What he said was that 1) he felt he should pass along whatever bargains he was able to find and 2) that if the objects were affordable, he might inspire a love of them in all sorts of people, letting them own a little piece of good design and of history. It might sound very romantic, but the concept appealed to me. As a result, the way I price my items owes much to him.

Forgive the south side of the north facing elephants. I didn't notice until I'd dismantled the staging.
This clock, for example, was priced at $21 at a consignment shop in Middleburg. If I decide to sell it (and that is by no means certain at this point), it will be priced at $87. I will need to buy a battery and a specially-sized box. I'll use a dozen or so feet of bubble wrap to protect it during shipping. There is a scuff or two on the wooden spokes that I'll need to take some steel wool to, probably using a mixture of mineral oil and mineral spirits. It takes about an hour to get to Middleburg. I hit five stores that day and came up with three other small, rather more unremarkable though still nice items.

My typical markup is four times whatever I paid plus $2-3 to cover the cost of specially sized boxes, bubble wrap, packing tape, paper and ink, plus insurance on those items that are fragile. I do sometimes add or subtract a few dollars here and there beyond that so that pricing within my shop stays relatively consistent or if I find similar items for sale for less elsewhere.

I share this because I can't be everywhere or thrift everywhere, even at nearby stores. So folks can see what amazing pieces are to be had at what amazing prices if one visits regularly and develops a good eye. And if people don't want to visit thrift stores multiple times a week and spend time cleaning up their finds, they can visit places like Etsy to see what they can uncover there for just a bit more.

So there you are. I hope this inspires some people to go visit their local thrift and consignment stores. Of course one can buy new, but isn't the thrill of the hunt so much more fun?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Vermont Rolling Pins: A Review

As you might have noticed, I bake a lot. And I mean a lot. Between my business baking dog treats and all my little personal projects, I bake something nearly every day.

So when my stupid cheapo rolling pin started to leak water on my dough (probably from being immersed, which granted you're not supposed to do), I knew it was time to find a new one. I toyed with a marble one, but my pumpkin dog treats are really orange and stain even things that don't stain very easily so I figured a marble rolling pin was probably the wrong solution for me.

Then I saw this post by Daily Prep author Muffy Aldrich. It's a holiday gift guide and in the comments, a reader referred to Vermont Rolling Pins, a company making solid wood hand-turned rolling pins designed to last forever. Wood? Lasts forever? Now that's what I'm talking about!

They have eight different models in three species of wood: maple, cherry and walnut. I wasn't sure which of the models and which of the woods would be best for me, a daily baker, so I sent them an email a couple of weekends ago.

And at 7 am on the following Monday, I had a very nice recommendation from one of the owners. She suggested either the Shaker or the Monster in maple. I liked the look of the Shaker better than the Monster, so the decision was simple, but I had a busy couple of days and didn't get it ordered right away. So I was pleasantly surprised when Cyndi called and left me a message asking if I had any other questions or wanted to discuss my purchase. It was a very nice, very personal gesture.

Finally though, I did place my order on December 4th and my rolling pin arrived today!

Isn't it pretty?

Just look at that grain!

And it's crazy heavy. If anyone ever breaks into our house, I'm grabbing this thing!

They have this vertical stand for it that I may get as well. This gorgeous thing is definitely worth displaying and I've got a great spot for it on the wall in the kitchen.

They recommend using bees wax or mineral oil once a month to keep it in good condition, but I'll probably end up using my Kerf's Wood Lotion. It's food safe and contains bees wax, but I think it's easier to work with.

I can highly recommend Vermont Rolling Pins. Of, and if you order by December 15th, you can even get one in time to give as a gift for the baker in your life. Trust me, any serious baker would really appreciate one of these. I can't wait to use mine!

I have not been compensated in any way for this review of Vermont Rolling Pins.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cute as a Button Holiday Cookie Packaging

Tonight I went to my first ever cookie exchange. I know, how have I never never been to a cookie exchange? Anyway, a crafting group I belong to decided to host one and so I felt some pressure to step up my packaging game a little. I figured a crafting group would expect better than just a half dozen cookies in sandwich baggies. Though it turned out I probably over-prepared, which is not that unusual for me honestly.

First I had to decide which cookies to bring, which you'd think would be difficult for me since I have so many I love to make, but I decided to break out the star for this event: Earl Grey Tea Cookies.

They're a shortbread-like butter cookie made with pulverized Earl Grey loose leaf tea right in the dough. Every time I make them for anything I get stellar reviews. Plus crafters + tea = sort of inevitable, right? I've pasted the recipe below, but in this case, the cookies really weren't the point.

The point was the packaging.

Since most cookie exchanges tend to involve bringing half a dozen cookies for each attendee, I wanted to do something small, simple and inexpensive since even though I only needed 8 for this event, others might do exchanges with as many as two dozen. I used only materials I had on hand so if you have something different in your stash, feel free to change it up a little.

What you'll need:

plastic wrap
parchment paper (or wrapping paper or scrapbook paper or fabric)
baker's twine (or ribbon or cooking twine or fishing line or beading wire)
vintage buttons (or charms or broken old earrings or anything with a hole in it)
copies of your recipe

First you need to make your cookie logs. Take however many cookies you want to wrap up and wrap them in plastic wrap. For anything with butter in it, you need the plastic layer to keep the cookies from bleeding butter all over your nice, pretty package.

Next, cut your paper to the proper size to wrap around your cookies. Since these tea cookies are bite-sized, I needed a fairly small sheet: basically 8" high by 12" wide. If you're wrapping larger cookies, you'll need bigger paper. Makes sure it is tall enough to go around your cookie log 1.5 times and about 4 times as long as your cookie log. Roll up your log in your paper and twist the ends to keep them closed. I didn't secure them with anything, but if you're using fabric, you'll need to use a little more twine to tie them up.

Next, take your recipe (I just printed out mine on printer paper in color and folded it in half lengthwise so it was a good size) and wrap it around the cookie log in the opposite direction from the direction your wrapped the paper. This will help everything stay in place while you get the twine and buttons sorted out.

Next, get your twine and wrap it 4 or 5 times around the recipe, right in the middle. Tie it off as if you're starting to tie a bow, but don't finish the bow.

Next, add your button. I threaded one end of my twine through one hole and the other end through a second hole. Then tie your bow to keep the button in place.

You're all done! You could also add a tag in the previous step before you add the button if you know who will be getting your cookie packages, but because I wasn't sure who was coming, I just left out that part.

They were a big hit at the cookie exchange. Everyone liked the cookies and the vintage buttons. And it was so easy! These 8 took about 20-25 minutes to package. And the recipe appears below. 

I hope you get invited back to many, many cookie exchanges. I highly recommend them! Just picture that said with a mouthful of cookies.

Earl Grey Tea Cookies

hands-on time: 20 minutes | total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes (includes chilling time) | makes 6 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons Earl Grey tea leaves, from approximately 6 tea bags

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Pulse together all the dry ingredients in a food processor until the tea leaves are pulverized. Add the vanilla, 1 teaspoon water, and the butter. Pulse together until a dough is formed. Divide the dough in half. Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a 12-inch log, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice each log into disks, 1/3 inch thick. Place on parchment- or foil-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until the edges are just brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.
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