For your Brooklyn Kitchen

Taylor felt the rumblings of change in Williamsburg in 2006 when her L train daily commute started to become more laborious. The rezoning of the neighborhood had been approved and the current tenants, and fellow L train riders, were bracing themselves for more than 40,000 new residents to move in. With a love of cooking under her belt, and an intuition that Brooklyn would become the next culinary hotspot, Taylor and her husband Harry created the first home-cooking store in the neighborhood. The Brooklyn Kitchen outgrew its space so quickly that their daughter Moxie was only six days old when she visited the construction site of their new (and current) location, which had expanded to include a permanent cooking class space and a partnership with The Meat Hook butcher.

The Brooklyn Kitchen is now well known as the cornerstone for finding all of your cooking needs – from homemade pasta machines and kitschy cookie cutters to specialty cooking ingredients such as Anita’s vegan yogurt– you are bound to find anything and everything you would need to impress the guests at your holiday potluck this year. Or if you aren’t much of a cook, you can pick up that last minute DIY gift for your friend who obsesses over home cooking sites. They also have delicious treats that you can’t walk past without stopping – like their amazing ice-cream fridge, or all of the Brooklyn-made chocolates, caramels and sweets that you are willing to fork over a premium for. Or you can walk in there, like me, and buy these lobster mitts so that you can sing “Under the Sea” while drinking wine and cooking your Christmas turkey… but I digress…

The Brooklyn Kitchen also has gained immense popularity with foodies through its incredible range of cooking classes. Their original knife skills class is a must for every budding chef, and their pig butchering class often has a waitlist. They also host a rotation of creative cooking classes that are perfect for a date night or bonding experience with friends – including sausage making, Pizza with Roberta’s, and “Mystery Box”, a class where students compete in a Chopped-like competition with secret ingredients.

Taylor constantly looks for fresh ways to bring the wonders and joy of cooking to busy New Yorkers and is looking forward to celebrating the 10th Christmas of the store being open this year. Over those ten Christmases, she’s also brought up Moxie and Frank, who are now six and two respectively. Here is my Q&A with Taylor:

Q: What was your inspiration for opening a cooking store?

A: Harry and I have always loved cooking and we wanted to share the joy and wonder that cooking brings. We hope to inspire people to eat better and enjoy home cooking and all of its benefits. In this day and age, so many people have jobs that are in front of computers or related to technology. If your job is to make a website or app, at the end of the day there’s something very satisfying about making something tangible with your hands, like a quiche that you can eat and share with friends and family  – it’s therapeutic in a way! We’ve found that people really crave that kind of creation, and people love to cook.

Q: The store is full of some fabulous brands. How do you stay on top of sourcing the best of the best?

A: A lot of the best brands come by us through word of mouth. Harry and I also travel – to Chicago for homewares or San Francisco for the Fancy Food and Good Food Awards, where we learn about some of the country’s best brands. There’s a lot of amazing food brands being born out of Brooklyn and we can taste and meet a lot of these brands locally, but we also learn about some amazing brands across the country through the Good Food Mercantile. We also love cooking ourselves so are constantly learning about the best new items out there through the food community.

Q: Your children feel like the store is their second home. How have you helped to distinguish it as a business?

A: It was very important to teach my children that things in the store don’t automatically belong to them. When Moxie was three or four years old, she grabbed a scale from the shelves for someone at school. It was then an opportunity to explain the economics of running a store – that we buy things from other people and then sell them. So things in the store aren’t “free” and she just can’t assume that they will replace themselves. It was especially hard for her to grasp at first because we have become family friends with a lot of the people we source materials from and her teachers and our friends are customers at the store, but it was an important time to make sure she could understand that. It’s also very cute as she’s gotten older and she takes a lot of ownership in the store – she will tell people that she “works” at the Brooklyn Kitchen!

Finally, if you had 3 tips for other mothers that you wish someone would have told you, what would they be?

  1. “This is Now.” I actually have that tattooed on my arm and it’s a line from the book “Little House in the Big Woods”. Nothing will ever be the same as it is right at this time, so treasure it now.
  2. Move on. When your little one has just tried shrimp for the first time and vomited on the dog and you have your hands full, realize that it’s going to be fine and move on. Don’t sweat the small stuff because it will pass.
  3. Take care of yourself. Find the time to carve out time for yourself and zone out– even if it’s just a few minutes a day!

Visit the The Brooklyn Kitchen to stock up on your needs this holiday season, or sign up for their newsletter online for inspiration for cooking all year around!

Ho-Ho-Holiday Mamas (Part Two)

Introduction: The babies in my mommy group all were born between September and December and are progressing through the same stages of development. Since we began motherhood within weeks of each other, there’s been some chatter as each new mother figures out what she will do when her maternity leave is over – whether it’s daycare or a nanny, extending unpaid leave, or not going back to work at all. Most of the mothers dread the end of their maternity leave – who ever feels ready to leave their baby after three months? However, I recently met two mothers in my group who aren’t taking an undisturbed three month maternity leave at all: these mothers run their own businesses that rely on gift giving during the holiday season, and that means being active now! While most of us are trying to catch a few hours of snooze when we can, these moms are working at home to get their businesses through their busy season. Here’s a two-part series of what I learned from these mothers.

 

PART TWO:

Allison loves giving and receiving presents so much that she started a gift-giving business, VelvetCrate, with her sister Amy. A VelvetCrate is a box of curated goodies that you can order online for your loved ones for any occasion. Using VelvetCrate makes giving gifts easy and quick – there's a rotating selection of packages available in a number of themes: Holiday, For Him (new!), Just Because, Celebrate, and Love. While the themes stay the same, the contents change up seasonally to include new combinations. The Crate options range from $50-85 (including shipping) and come in a pretty little package with a custom message so that all you need to do is place an order. Since the items have a hand-selected touch and come from small shops it makes a great present for that friend who spends a lot of time on blogs, Pinterest, and Instagram drooling over everything

Just Because

For Him

Celebrate

Contents from Holiday. Photos courtesy of velvetcrate.com

Allison's sister Amy oversees the shipping and operations out of Kansas while Allison runs the marketing – including web management, sales, photography, email marketing, and social media (@VelvetCrate) – out of her apartment in Brooklyn. She also has a heavy hand in product selection, which sounds like pretty much like the BEST JOB EVER as it takes her to major markets around the country to source new items and has her spending a lot of time learning about cool new boutique businesses. Recently, since Allison now lives in Brooklyn, some of the “crates” have included some local Williamsburg favorites such as Liddabit Sweets and Salty Road Taffy. VelvetCrate also produces a number of corporate orders – in fact, their first corporate order for the holiday season happened the day Allison went into labor with Rose, her little 10 week old daughter!

Here is my Q&A with Allison:

Q: Product sourcing sounds like a lot of fun! How do you keep the packages fresh?

A: You’re right! Product sourcing is one of my favorite parts about VelvetCrate, although it does take a lot of work. We keep our selections fresh by updating gift packages and the brands we use every season. Of course, there are some gifts that remain timeless and popular, such as candles and notecards, so we try to find the most up-and-coming brands to use for those products. We also create fun special-edition themed crates that change frequently too, like the FOR HIM VelvetCrate we recently launched. When we first started VelvetCrate, our packages were all very similar, but over the past year we’ve worked to have more variety with the gifts, and in our price points. This summer we launched The VelvetCrate Shop, where you can now customize your gift package too!

Q: The holidays are a busy time! How do you manage with a newborn at home?

A: It’s been a challenge, but I am making it work! The holidays are definitely our busiest time, but it’s fun and the adrenaline rush (and coffee!) help keep me going. For the past year before Rose arrived, I worked hard to create and maintain a work-at-home schedule since working at home even WITHOUT a baby can be hard, but that schedule has now gone out the window now that baby is boss. When Rose is napping during the day, I use that time to be as productive as possible, and in those few hours here and there, I work harder than I ever have. Like most entrepreneurs, I work at night and on the weekends too.

Q: Your first corporate order came in the day that you were in labor with Rose – tell us all about it!

A: She was born in mid-September, and in retail world, that’s pretty much when the holidays start. Shortly after I was induced that morning, we received an inquiry for a large custom order, and we had to move on it fast. Since I couldn’t use my computer from the delivery bed, I was texting with my sister like crazy from my phone. I had an epidural, so fortunately I was able to work right through those early contractions. Luckily, everything was completed and approved hours before Rose arrived later that night!

Get ahead of the game this holiday season by using VelvetCrate to gift those around you. You can check out their gift packages online or get inspired on their Instagram and Pinterest pages!

Ho-Ho-Holiday Mamas (Part One)

Introduction: The babies in my mommy group all were born between September and December and are progressing through the same stages of development. Since we began motherhood within weeks of each other, there’s been some chatter as each new mother figures out what she will do when her maternity leave is over – whether it’s daycare or a nanny, extending unpaid leave, or not going back to work at all. Most of the mothers dread the end of their maternity leave – who ever feels ready to leave their baby after three months? However, I recently met two mothers in my group who aren’t taking an undisturbed three month maternity leave at all: these mothers run their own businesses that rely on gift giving during the holiday season, and that means being active now! While most of us are trying to catch a few hours of snooze when we can, these moms are working at home to get their businesses through their busy season. Here’s a two-part series of what I learned from these mothers.

 

PART ONE:

Liz has been making and selling hand-crafted clocks since 2007. This year, she and her husband welcomed Bodhi into their world. Bodhi is now ten weeks old, and he will be just over three months old when Christmas rolls around, which is long after Liz will have finished making many batches of hand-crafted clocks to be mailed off to online buyers or sold this Sunday (Dec 6th) at the Etsy New York 8th Annual Holiday Handmade Cavalcade at Chelsea Market.

Liz’s clocks are made from recycled bicycle parts and paired with reclaimed textiles or topographic maps. Liz started the business when she lived in Portland and continued it through moves to Oakland and NYC.  She connects with bike shops locally and regionally to source worn out gears and then transforms them into functional and unique clocks.

Liz, who used to be a pre-school teacher, initially started making her clocks for friends, family and other teachers she worked with until the word got out and demand increased through word of mouth. Most of Liz’s business comes through her Etsy shop but she also can be found at a few major markets each year (such as Renegade Craft Fair) and her products are sold in a select number of stores around the country, including By Brooklyn. Priced from $39 – $85, Liz’s clocks are a great gift for that friend who loves handcrafted and one-of-a-kind items with a story behind them – after all, no two pieces are the same and custom orders can be personalized.

Here is my Q&A with Liz:

Q: What was your inspiration to start making clocks and how did you decide to launch your craft into a business?

A: When I was working as a preschool teacher, we often used recycled materials in the classroom to make new and beautiful things. I was inspired by children’s creativity and how they see possibilities in all things. I come from a family of artists - between the 5 siblings we have a photographer, animator, musician, a children’s art educator, and a clock-maker! We often gift one another things we make so one year I made each of my siblings clocks as Christmas gifts.  They were a hit and soon friends and friends of friends were requesting clocks.  So, in the fall of 2007, I decided to open an Etsy shop and soon thereafter I realized I could make a business selling them to the public.

Q: How have you prepared for this holiday season, and what’s different this year now that you have a newborn at home?

A: I spent a lot of time this summer sourcing materials and building inventory knowing the arrival of a baby would impact my ability to work tirelessly through the holiday season.  By doing a lot of prep before Bodhi arrived, I was able to get ahead of the game.  The process of making clocks happens in stages so now that he’s here it actually lends itself nicely to a newborn’s schedule.  For example, I can work on designing clock backgrounds or packaging up orders during those stretches when he’s napping.  It’s all about being as efficient as possible with my time. I also had to realize that I wouldn’t be able to do as much this first year as a new mother and I shifted my sales goals to accommodate that reality. In past years, I would participate in a number of holiday markets but I made the decision to only do one in-person market this year as they are so time consuming and require a lot of energy. The NY Etsy Team Show this weekend is the only market I have committed to this December.

Q: It’s a lot having a newborn at home. Have you thought about taking a “pause” for just this season?

A: Absolutely.  There are certainly times when I wish my sole responsibility right now was caring for Bodhi. If he was a spring or summer baby I would have been able to take more time off in the early months, but the reality of my work is that it includes a busy holiday season.  When I feel overwhelmed, I just remind myself that my professional choices are what will allow me to spend more time with him in the long run.   Unlike other working mothers, I don’t have to worry about finding care for him when I go back to work.  It definitely requires some creativity and flexibility but I wouldn’t want it any other way.  And as for “pausing”, I try to make that practice part of my everyday as I sit and marvel at this sweet little person we welcomed into the world.

If you are in Chelsea this weekend, don’t forget to swing by and say hi to Liz at Etsy New York 8th Annual Holiday Handmade Cavalcade. Or check out her Etsy store to see which clocks are available online!

Black and White and #Tagged Allover

Its hard to ignore that there's a major trend in baby nurseries at the moment: the monochromatic Black and White nursery. I'm also guilty of getting sucked into it, and it's easy to see why - the colours are neutral, the gender is neutral, and it goes well with grey which has been the colour du jour for so long.

I don't know enough about decoration trends to make any real intelligent observations beyond that, but after flicking through so many photos of black and white nurseries I started to wonder - is there any benefit to the baby, other than being #onfleek, of having a black and white room?

#blackandwhitenursery on Instagram

Babies are born without fully developed adult vision, and they go through multiple stages of visual development in their first year. Initially, their world is mainly black and white and their range of focus is about 8 - 12 inches, which is the perfect distance to gaze lovingly into mother's eyes while breastfeeding. A baby's eyes will get a little more savvy over the next few months, and their hand-eye coordination will kick in to get them through the next stages of development. By about 5 months old, babies are able to see a full range of colour and their eyes are able to process depth perception, which is crucial for them when they start to crawl. By about a year old, a baby's vision is up to par with a normal* healthy adult (*types the person who is in denial that she should be wearing glasses on a daily basis). 

But between 0-4 months, they generally will not really be able to tell the difference between subtle shades of colour. Initially they are better at focusing on brightly colored or high-contrast items. Stimulating the baby's vision and giving them something they can focus on (with black and white items) is good for helping them get through important developmental milestones... but they will soon need more colour around them to keep up the progression. However, a number of advice columns will also argue that you don't want to stimulate a baby too much once they start to process colours as they can become agitated when overwhelmed.

It's hard to really get a consensus about what that means for your nursery. It seems that black and white items with high contrast patterns are important in the beginning months, but that it's really only relevant for objects that will be 8-12 inches away from the baby's face (the Montessori school system developed a "Munari" crib mobile for ages 3-6 weeks which is a black and white mobile made from 2 dimensional geometrical shapes). Once you pass this initial stage, it seems important to keep your baby more stimulated and to introduce more colours as they can handle it, which I would imagine will happen naturally as you take them more and more outside of the nursery anyway. 

I'm not going to over think it and will continue to enjoy #blackandwhitenursery on Instagram. Sometimes it feels a little like rolling the dice, but maybe I'll get some of these decisions right one day.

 

Love Letters

I love sitting in my baby's nursery and I smile when I think about how much more time I will be spending in there once he is born.

It wasn't always like that and its not just because of "pregnancy hormones" (promise).

My favourite part of my baby's nursery was not bought on Etsy or a little hipster shop around the corner in Brooklyn. Above my baby's crib-to-be are 26 hand painted and decorated letters of the alphabet, each with a personalized note on the back for our son, made by a group of my best male and female friends. 

One of my favourite things about living in NYC is having an incredibly diverse and amazing group of friends that have become our extended family. We are the first of our close friends to have children and they are equally excited about adding a little boy into "the family." 

However, there's only so much that they want to hear about the different types of changing pads that exist (I don't blame them) and there's only so long I can get them to look at my Pinterest board before eyes start to glaze over. I wanted to find a way to connect my friends to all the planning and decisions I was starting to make, including the details of decorating the nursery.

I liked the aesthetic of these wooden letters from Land of Nod, and a crafty-friend-of-mine made a quick observation that I could recreate them for much cheaper using paper mache letters from "any craft store." We were sharing a lunch on her sofa when we had the "aha" moment - what if *we* made them. At my baby shower. Each guest could "do a letter", and finish it with a note on the back welcoming our son to this world. 

I had to realize that some of my friends were probably not going to be as enthusiastic about this as I was. I also had to let go of controlling what the end product looked like (a learning experience for a control-freak). To top it off, my baby shower was co-ed, so I was half expecting a few of the men to politely bow out of the task. I pre-painted the letters to avoid a mess at the restaurant, brought a handful of black sharpies, lots of beer, and let my guests at them: the emphasis being on writing the letters for our baby on the back.  

The results exceeded my expectations and I was blown away by how much my friends got into it. Sure, some of them weren't the "most artistic" and a few people didn't quite follow "the rules", but the notes on the back were truly the icing on the cake. Some made us tear up and gave us goosebumps, and some made us chuckle outloud. Needless to say, putting them up on the wall was one of the most fun "nesting" nights my husband and I have had during the pregnancy. Each time I look at them up on the wall I think of all the amazing secret notes that our little boy will one day read.

(Bonus: every time a friend comes to our apartment they look for their letter up on the wall, and feel connected to the nursery)

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