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Teacup Birdfeeder

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So I keep seeing these photos of cute teacup birdfeeders on Pinterest and then I found some teacups on clearance at Ross so I decided to give it a shot. All you need is a teacup with a saucer and some epoxy or clear urethane glue. I picked the glue up at Michaels.  The hardest part of this project is tipping the teacup on it’s side with the handle up and then squirting the glue into all the spaces so that it has a good amount of glue to keep the two pieces together. This can be difficult if you have a very curved bell shape to your teacup, so choose wisely.  You’ll have to hold the teacup in place for a few minutes or figure out how the teacup naturally wants to center itself before you start and glue it there.  What I like about this one is that you don’t have to try and figure out how to drill a hole in the china and then put a stick through it like the other ones I’ve seen.

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The glue takes 24 hours to cure and then you can fill it with birdseed and hang it up!  My mom was asking me, “will the birds really be able to land on that thing? Won’t it just tip over and spill out all the birdseed?” So I did a trail run and yes, the birds found it difficult to perch on and didn’t eat a lot of the birdseed. But it turned out so darling I didn’t want to give up on it altogether, so I tried just setting the cup and saucer on a table. That worked out great!  So while it looks really cute hanging by it’s handle, it’s not exactly practical.

Another thing you can try with teacups (if you have a plethora) is making them into candles!

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Basil Salt

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I was trying to figure out what to do with the plethora of basil I have from my new plant and found a recipe for basil salt. I thought that would be a good way to preserve some of the basil and an excellent opportunity to use my cute lime green mortar and pestle from World Market!

It was pretty easy. I started with a few dry basil leaves, rolled them up like a cigar and cut little ribbons (it’s called a chiffonade – that’s French). Then I cut those strips into smaller pieces. Next I put about a tablespoon of kosher salt into the mortar and added the basil bits. Next I took the pestle and mashed everything together, using the sides to help crush everything. The salt also creates some abrasion to help the whole process. Add in about four tablespoons more of salt and mix all together. Then pour all of it out onto a plate or tray and let it dry out for a few hours. It’s important that you don’t have the dishwasher on or anything else that will create humidity as you’re trying to dry the out the oils that the basil released into the salt.

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Then you just pour the dried salt and basil into a little jar or an old screw cap spice dispenser (cleaned out so it doesn’t smell like the previous occupant). This is great to have on hand for making pasta, meatballs, steak, fish, chicken – just about anything. You can also add in chopped fresh rosemary, thyme and oregano to make it a standby Italian seasoned salt.  I can’t wait to put it on my grilled chicken this weekend!

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Herb Garden

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So about six months ago I decide to start growing an herb garden.  I used to have a rosemary plant and a French thyme in a pot and would always go grab a bunch when I was making soup. At some point, I let both go to ruin.  Since we’re renting right now, I can’t exactly rip out the backyard and start planting a real garden, but I figured I could get some pots and start growing some herbs. Since I want to eventually use herbs I grow to make oils and scrubs, I figured I better get started. Growing herbs is supposed to be easy but I’m finding it kind of tricky. For one, my backyard is very sunny and hot (which is supposed to good for Mediterranean plants, right?) so my plants look pretty beat up by the time I get home at night to water. And half the time I think I’m overwatering and half the time I think I’m underwatering.  Some of the plants have been doing well and some, not so much.  But overall, it’s a very good learning experience. My boyfriend recently commented that “you know, you aren’t growing enough to really do anything with.”  I told him it was all about getting a feel for it so when I really start, I’ll know what I’m doing without killing everything. Also, it’s good for me to get in touch with the source of what I want to found this business on, instead of just buying essential oils in glass jars.  It gets me into the roots of the matter, so to speak.

So I wanted to share some of my favorites with you.  The plant that has been doing the best is my dwarf Meyer lemon tree! I’m mainly surprised because it’s in a pot that I didn’t think was going to be big enough, but was all I could afford at the time. It’s got a bunch of baby lemons that keep getting bigger. I didn’t even think it was going to produce anything this year!

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My favorite is the basil plant I just bought – mostly because it’s nice and bushy and hasn’t been in my backyard long enough to get sunburned!  It smells peppery and herby and wonderful!!  I’m going to try a basil salt recipe I found.  Of course, I had to buy a cute little (green) mortar and pestle at World Market to crush it with. I also bought a black mint plant. I wasn’t sure it was going to do well but it is really loving the backyard. I recently moved it into a larger pot and it was swimming with roots!

So the thing I didn’t think about when I started this, and bought some really gorgeous pots to put the herbs in, is that they will eventually get too large for those pots and need to be transplanted.  I am so grateful to the universe (in the form of my next door neighbor) for providing me with these wonderful clay pots! Now I can move them all into these beautiful matching pots.  I’m so happy to have these living things in my life and be able to water them every afternoon. It’s very meditative to water them after a long day at work (and long drive home) and just listen to the birds and the windchimes. It gets me out of my head for a while.

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Branding 101

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I was talking to a friend the other day who was asking me all about what I’ve learned about starting my own business because she wants to do the same thing. We were talking about the name of her business and supplies and how to sell things. The first thing that came to my mind was BRANDING! After spending 10 years in marketing and branding I have an acute awareness of how branding can make or break a business. It’s the second most fun thing about starting my own business.

First: You need to pick a name for your business that means something to you but also is unique and easily identifiable for your customers.  “Jams by Jamie” might feel like the perfect name for you (and it’s very catchy) but what if you decide to branch out and make pickles? Or pot holders? That name is very limited in product scope.  Also, you need to do some internet research and see if anyone else is using that name. Can you get a unique web address with that? The nice thing about a homemade business is people expect it to be personal so you can have a cute business name like this.

Second: You need to think of a look that says “you”. This includes your logo, the look of your website or blog, the labels on your products, your business cards, anything that a customer is going to see. Even though this a “home-grown” business, you want to look professional and instill confidence in your customers.  If your jam labels are askew and smeared with jam, I would be worried that you were sloppy in the canning process as well and that I might get sick later!  Are you really into being green? Then how about using paper bags instead of plastic? How about kraft-color paper or labels instead of shiny white?  How can you get across your company’s mission and passion in everything a customer sees?

Third: Make sure you do your homework and have everything working together. As much as I’d love to put up a table next weekend at a show, I know I’m nowhere near ready for that. I have a lot of work to do to get my logo to where I want it and design product labels and business cards, as well as figuring out exactly what products I’m going to sell. But there also comes a time when working on the minutia of all these details becomes an excuse for not actually putting yourself out there. You can find a happy medium between these two extremes.

The best book I’ve read in my research for how to really formulate a successful business (and also great tips on online selling and presence) is The Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin.  Even though I have a lot of marketing experience, I found this book immensely helpful, especially as the handmade niche market is very new to me.

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What do I charge?

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Anybody trying to start a business faces this very important, and scary, question. What do I charge? Apart from the practical concerns of what is someone willing to pay and how much do I need to make an hour if I’m my own boss and I’m not getting paid benefits or earning vacation time, this question also conjures up all those feelings of low self-worth. For many of us, working for someone else all our lives means we’ve been told what we are worth and to only speak when spoken to. The urge to start our own business comes from knowing that we are more than the box our jobs have put us in.

So here I am at the same point. What do I need to charge for my products, taking into consideration an hourly rate, being able to eventually pay for my own health insurance if this business takes off to the point where I can do this full-time. You never want to start out charging less and then have to raise your prices later when you make the jump to do this for a living. There is also the other consideration of underpricing what you do and, in turn, underpricing what other people in the handmade community do. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I just crochet when I’m watching TV every night and I’d be doing it even if I wasn’t selling it, so I just want to make enough to pay for more yarn”, then you’re not considering that someone in the booth next to you needs to charge enough to do it for a living.

But all that aside, what is someone really willing to pay for a jar of homemade jam? For a hand-crocheted washcloth? If they were to go to Walmart, they could get that dirt-cheap. So how can I expect to charge $7-10 for it?? What we all need to keep in mind is that people going to craft fairs and farmers markets are already in a different mind-frame than your Walmart shopper. People want to buy handmade products because they want to support the idea of you making good quality items. They have the same dream of living in a world without GMO vegetables and blankets made by little kids in a third-world sweatshop. And these people are willing to spend a few dollars more to help make that dream a reality. It’s really an amazing thing!  People want to hear your story and buy into the idea of you living your passion!

There are a lot of resources out there for how to price your work. I think these articles, Pricing Happiness Part 1 and Part 2, featured on Oh My! Handmade Goodness, are an excellent start for looking at this topic.

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Peach & Onion Jam

I recently came back from a great trip to New Orleans. I’m not much for cajun spice but I did try a lot of new things and discovered some tastes that I really enjoyed. While venturing around town I found this great store called Pepper Palace where you could taste all the hot sauces and BBQ sauces! It was amazing! I got to try some things I probably wouldn’t have thought would taste good together but they did.

So here I am on Memorial Day weekend, getting ready to cook some brats and I thought “boy, wouldn’t it be great if I could make some amazing topping for these!” So that’s when I remembered the onion and peach flavor combo from the store. I decided to just go for it and create my own recipe. It turned out really good!  The flavor is really intense because I didn’t let the onions caramelize long enough before I put in the peaches so I’ve reworked the recipe a bit to compensate for that.

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Peach & Onion Jam with thyme and balsamic vinegar

4 ripe peaches (apricots or plums would also be good)
2 sweet onions – medium to large
2 T butter
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2-1 C sugar
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

Cut the onions in half and then slice thinly. Separate all the slices. Add the butter into a saute pan over medium heat and add in all the onions. Stir to cover all the slices with the butter and keep stirring every few minutes. The onions will take a long time to caramelize but should start getting nice and brown without burning. If they are getting too dark, turn the flame lower. Once the onions start to darken, add in the balsamic vinegar and the thyme leaves from the sprigs.

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In a saucepan, heat up enough water to cover the peaches and 1/2 – 1 cup of sugar. Add in the peaches (whole) and allow to cook for about 5 minutes or until tender when a fork is inserted. Prepare a bowl with ice water to put the peaches in when done. Take the peaches out with a slotted spoon and put into the ice water. Keep the syrup you cooked the peaches in for later. Allow them to cool for a few minutes. At this point the skin should peel off easily. Cut peaches in half with a knife and take out the pit. Chop the peaches into small pieces and add to onions once the onions have caramelized.

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Add the peaches and any juice to the onion mixture and turn the heat to low. Let the flavors combine for a few minutes. If the mixture gets too dry, ladle in some of the peach syrup. Final product should be nice and brown and syrupy. Ladle finished jam into jars. At this point you could do a water bath to seal or just refrigerate. This would be good on brats, hamburgers or steak. Also, you could add sour cream to this for an amazing onion dip!

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This recipe makes about 3 half-pint jars.

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2nd Canning Attempt

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For my second attempt I decided to make a recipe I saw on a TV cooking show. It is an apple maple topping for ice cream!  It smelled heavenly cooking in the pan and I can’t wait to try it. It only yielded three half pint jars so I’ll have to triple the recipe next time.  I also let it cook too long and don’t have enough syrup in the jars like I wanted. But it will make a really pretty Mother’s Day gift!

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