Behind the Scenes: LTD’s Food Stylist

JasonAs LTD Commodities customers, you know we have a wide variety of products – from garden tools to Superman Socks – but you wouldn’t know what we have without great pictures. To make those pictures great, we have different stylists for different products and we have one stylist – Jason — who devotes his days to food. We stopped in behind the scenes at the photo studio to ask Jason a few questions about his work while he put together some Halloween-themed dishes.

LTD: How did you get into food styling?

Jason: I was a visual merchandiser for a retailer for many years where I was responsible for setting up scenes in my store to make shoppers want to buy items. I like to cook, so I used my visual background to take pictures of the food I make and it turned into a career.

LTD: What do you use to inspire you?

Jason: I use my favorite magazines to inspire me. There’s an Australian food magazine that I look at where the food photos are absolutely amazing. I strive to be as precise and creative as their stylists.

LTD: What is the most difficult part of food styling?

Jason:  Working with food that’s not camera-friendly is difficult. I have to make ingredients do what they’re not supposed to do. For example, I have to make whipped cream stay perfectly fluffy for the entire shoot when normally it would melt into the mug of hot chocolate it is sitting on top of.

JasonLTD: What are the three most important things to remember when styling?

Jason: 1. If it doesn’t work the first time, try again.

2. What I’m looking at is not what the camera sees. I have to style from the camera’s point of view, not mine.

3. Be open to other people’s suggestions; sometimes great ideas come from others’ input.

LTD:  Do you have a favorite product you styled for?

Jason:  I love styling for cookbooks because I can make the dishes in the book and that’s what I love doing at home.

JasonLTD: What is the most satisfying part of food styling?

Jason:   Those shots where after I see the finished product, I can say “wow, that makes me hungry.” That and seeing the smiles on coworkers faces when I get to serve them the food I just worked on.

We’re excited to be on Jason’s team — he makes great food look even better. Keep your eye out for his work — with the holidays coming up, he’s staying busy to show you our favorite holiday gifts.

5 Ideas for Easy Tailgating

It’s football season! That means the party is headed to the parking lot. Here are 5 ideas for easy tailgating.

tailgating

Image source: slgckgc via Flickr

Fan Frills Proper tailgating etiquette suggests you get to the designated parking lot early enough to find a parking spot. If you find a spot, that means you have several hours of time to eat, drink and play before the big game. Since you have a lot of time to kill before the game, make sure you are comfortable. Bring plenty of collapsible chairs for you and guests – both invited and for guests passing through the lot.  For dedicated fans, a tent or canopy is a luxury for when the sun is bright or the rain and snow aren’t accommodating outdoor entertaining. Blankets, sweatshirts, ponchos, umbrellas, and stadium seats are also must-haves in case the weather is not on your side for game day.

Fan Fun If you do it right, your party will last all day and because it’s a party, you need entertainment. Tailgaters are always up for a good parking lot game. “Bags” and a ring toss game are a must for younger tailgaters while older tailgaters might prefer card games or bocce ball.

tailgating

Image source: transplanted mountaineer via Flickr

Fan Fizz For drinks, keep it simple. Bring beer, limit the liquor and wine and keep the soda selection to a minimum. You can bring a lot, but you don’t have to bring everything. Label the coolers according to beverages so your guests don’t have to dig into a bin of ice packed with the wrong drinks. As a devoted fan, get in the spirit with spirits. Consider making a team themed drink to mix in a sealable container the night before the big game to make setup and dispensing easy.

Fan Fare Be aware of how much food you are bringing and how much table space you have. When you’re thinking of what you’re going to bring, consider exactly how you plan on serving it. If you’re having burgers and brats with chips from the grill you might only need cooking utensils not forks and spoons, but if you’re having pie for dessert, don’t let your guests eat it with their hands. A mini-grill is a must have for your meats, but don’t be afraid to get creative. Break out the cookbooks and come up with appetizers or side dish ideas that are a local tradition for your team – or even the opposing team. It’ll mix things up and make your tailgate party that much more fun. And, of course, do everything you can the night before – pack a condiment caddy, put together a container for burger toppings, marinate and skewer kebabs – so when you get up in the morning, all you have to do is put the coolers together and pack the car.

tailgating

Image Source: Illinoisstatehomecoming.com via Flickr

Fan Fundamentals There are bound to be mishaps at any party and a tailgate party is no different. Be prepared for anything – plenty of napkins, toilet paper, water, ice, fire extinguisher, and a first aid kit. There are likely emergency services at the stadium, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

Tailgating is the sport to celebrate sports, but the season only comes around once a year; do it right and you’ll do your team proud.

Football Season Begins: 4 Man Cave Essentials

mancaveEveryone needs a place to call their own, and that includes the man of the house. The man cave creates a space where he can relax and do as he pleases without fear of interference from the ladies. It is a place where he can enjoy an adult beverage, yell at the TV, play games, and hang out with the guys. It can be the basement, attic, a rehabilitated office, or a shed. A man cave does not need to be fancy, but here are a few things a fully functional “mantuary” needs. Here are 4 man cave essentials.

mancaveSeating The main point of a man cave is to create a comfortable place to relax. That requires plenty of seating. No man cave is complete without at least one recliner. Nothing makes a guy feel like the master of his domain like putting his feet up. Take the recliner one step further with a reclining sofa or sectional that provides seating for visitors. If your man cave has a bar, stools are mandatory. Beanbag chairs are classics, and you can opt for sofa-sized ones or special designs that convert to guest beds.

Refrigeration Since no one wants to constantly run back and forth to the kitchen for drinks and snacks, the man cave needs a place to keep them chilled. It can be as simple as an old refrigerator or mini fridge appropriated for the room. If beer is your beverage of choice, try a fridge with a built-in tap . There even are appliances specifically designed to hold and cool a keg, as well as dispense beer. DIY kits help you convert a fridge to a drink dispenser. Keep your drinks and food even closer at hand with a coffee table with a built-in cooler.

Entertainment The crown jewel of any man cave is its entertainment system. Often, the entire point of establishing a man cave is to have a place to host game day parties or to watch favorite movies and TV shows. A flat screen TV, as large as you can afford and the room can hold, and a DVD player are absolute musts. Include a game console for days when nothing is on. Don’t forget tables and equipment for other pastimes, like pool, foosball, darts, and poker.

mancaveDécor The thing that really sets the man cave apart from the rest of the house is its décor. It is a spot where a man can escape from the pastels, floral prints, and matching furniture that fills most homes. A sign on or near the door should make it clear visitors are entering a male sanctuary. Look for one with the logo of your favorite team, or get a personalized one with your name. Beer-themed decorations are very popular, but do not limit yourself to that. Show off your sports memorabilia, or transform the space into a tribute to your favorite pop culture icons. Do not forget posters from your favorite movie. A man cave with an attached bathroom is the ultimate in luxury. If you are so blessed, make sure to extend the décor into the bath.

 

Cheese Pizza Day: 6 Tips for Homemade Pizza

cheese-pizzaMark your calendars: National Cheese Pizza Day is September 5th. There are few foods that can instantly put your smile on a face the way pizza does. It’s the food for all ages – young and old enjoy pizza in all shapes, temperatures and texture. Frozen, delivery or homemade, even when pizza is bad, it’s still pretty good. But, of course, when you’re making homemade pizza, you want it to be better than pretty good, so here are 6 tips for great homemade pizza.

Weigh it Baking is a science. All professional bakers measure ingredients by weight using a digital kitchen scale. Using a scale makes measuring more accurate and, in turn, more tasty. It’s not a must for making great pizza, but it certainly makes a difference. Besides, learning to measure opens up a new world of professional recipes you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Plan Ahead Just about every pizza dough recipe you find requires it to be refrigerated overnight. When you’ve mixed together the yeast, water, salt, and flour, kneaded it and let it rise, it’s very tempting to skip the refrigeration step – don’t! Pizza dough ferments while it’s in the refrigerator. One night of fermentation is great, but three nights makes it super. This is how they do it in New Haven. If you’ve ever had New Haven apizza (that’s not a typo – that’s what they call it in New Haven), you’ve had some of the best pizza in the world.

cheese-pizzaRoll it Out In movies and TV shows you see people spinning and tossing pizza dough out over their heads to make a perfectly circular pie; what you don’t see is that it takes years of practice to make it look that easy. Tossing pizza dough is really hard. Don’t be ashamed of using a pin. It’ll make nice circles and it won’t take you years to do it.

Keep it Loose Professionals and serious pizza makers toss the dough, top it and slide it into the oven with the help of a pizza peel (like a big paddle) and a lot of semolina or cornmeal to make it loose so it doesn’t stick to the peel. To do that without everything falling off into your oven in one big lump also takes a lot of practice. But you can skip the practice and the equipment (unless you’re aiming for authentic). Parchment paper or bake mat work just fine to replace the cornmeal and the pizza peel. Roll your dough out on the paper, top it, carry it to the oven and lower it onto the pizza stone. Easy-peasy, pizza-cheesy.

cheese-pizzaKeep it Flat The best homemade pizzas are made with pizza stones, but you don’t have to have one to make a pizza good. Flip over a cookie sheet and use the bottom for your flat surface. Make sure you preheat the oven with the pan inside (as you would with a pizza stone) so it’s hot when you slide your pizza in. Alternatively, you can assemble it all in a cast iron skillet and bake it just like Pizza Hut.

Get it Hot! Turn your oven up as high as the temperature can go – most ovens won’t go much higher than 500°F. The dough has to be baked all the way through without burning the cheese on top. The high temperature for a short amount of time (10-15 minutes) allows the pizza crust to get crispy and the cheese just hot enough to bubble and melt.

Pizza is hard to make – which is why there are so many alternatives to making it at home. But eating a pizza you created yourself is way more satisfying than anything you can buy. Happy Cheese Pizza Day!

Who We Are Following: Bloggers, Tweeters and Pinners

We’re always looking to the Internet for inspiration — Pinterest, Blogs and Twitter give us countless ideas and we would like to share them with you. Here are some notable bloggers, tweeters and pinners we’re following.

gypsy-nester

Gypsy Nester chronicles the lives of David and Veronica after sending their children out into the world to fend for themselves. Without children to rear, they sold their nest and they’re filling their time with “Tales from the Road.”

laugh-lines On Laugh Lines Vicki Claflin quips and jokes about aging and all the good and bad things that come with it.

bowl-full-of-lemonsIdeas and tips on organizing, cleaning and budgeting is what you’ll find on A Bowl Full of Lemons. The creative team maps out a plan for you to simplify your life. Here’s your key to a life of order.

PinterestPinterest Karen Propes love beagles and has a knack for finding the craziest pumpkin carving projects. She’s got tips to share and boards to inspire – that’s why we follow her.

Virginia says she’s a food enthusiast, but she likes a whole lot more than food. From her Bath and Powder Room inspiration to what inspires cute, classy style, we’re watching for her favorite pins.

With boards like “Baking substitutions, mixes, spices” and “Michigan,” Connie Thelen shows us new ways of seeing things and pinspiring us.

TwitterTwitter @boomergparent is chock full of wisdom and ideas about getting older and how to do it right.

@sharongreenthal tweets and re-tweets about the things that matter in mid-life.

@MidlifeRoadTrip is tweeting their way across the USA giving us the best places to stop with budget tips to boot. Also, they love bacon.

5 Last Minute RV Destinations for Labor Day Weekend

RV-tripThis is it. The end of the summer. If you haven’t already planned your Labor Day weekend RV getaway, you still have a little bit of time. Here are 5 last minute RV destinations for Labor Day weekend.

California Borrego Springs, California is an RV destination about half-way between Palm Springs and San Diego. Hike the desert trail leading to the third largest palm oasis in California, golf or take a tour of the more than 100 giant sculptures of Ricardo Breceda. At night, with the big, open sky, stargazing is an essential desert experience.

Texas Kerriville, in the heart of Texas Hill Country, is an RV hot spot surrounded by Texas nature. A park-lined river runs through the RV-triptown where you can swim, fish and kayak or go tubing. If you’re looking for a spectacular adventure, just about an hour away is the Lost Maples State Natural Area. Limestone canyons, springs and grasslands make up this preserve. Whether you’re sightseeing, bird watching or fishing, Lost Maples is a nature lover’s paradise.

Florida An idyllic RV destination, Ocean Pond is a 1,700-acre lake in the middle of Osceola National Forest – not far from Jacksonville. The plentiful longleaf pine surround the inland swamps and provide shelter for endangered animals, but it’s also a harbor for hunters. Whether you want a leisurely horseback ride or swimming is at the top of your list of Labor Day activities to check off, Ocean Pond is just a drive away.

Ohio Sailing, exploring caves and golf are all on the list of things to do in Delaware County, Ohio. This RV destination has the largest inland beach in all of Ohio. The Midwest has a relentless winter, and with Delaware’s 11 nature preservation parks, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy Labor Day weekend weather. But in an RV in Ohio, you’re never too far from fun.

RV-tripPennsylvania History, nature, shopping — Mercer County has just about everything you need for a last minute RV trip to end the summer. Kayaks and canoes can be rented for excursions in the surrounding waterways, Hell’s Hollow has miles of trails where you can explore the history and nature of Western Pennsylvania and if you want a challenge, check out the Cool Spring Corn Maze.

If you haven’t started planning your last RV trip of the summer, you’re not running out of destinations but you are running out of time.

Best Back to School Movies to Get You Excited About the School Year

Watching-MoviesThe kids are nervous about going back to school and hitting the books. But the anxiety can be eased with a few good flicks. Here are 10 of the best back to school movies to get your kids excited about the school year.

1. Clueless (1995)
Beverly Hills princess Cher Horowitz thinks she knows what’s best for everyone. But this high-school matchmaker may not be as brilliant as she thinks. Inspired by the Jane Austen novel Emma, this movie has infectious music, weird slang, and strange fashions from that bizarre era known as “The 1990s”.

2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)
Based on the books by Jeff Kinney, this story follows new middle school student Greg Heffley as he struggles with his insecurities and learns about real friendship with humor kids can easily understand and situations they can relate to.

3. Matilda (1996) Everyone feels like they are an underdog sometimes, but Matilda Wormwood may be the ultimate one. Neglected by her parents, this young genius is stranded in a school with an evil principal. Aided by a kind teacher, Matilda discovers her special gifts and reminds kids that good can prevail, even in the worst of times.

Hogwarts

Image Source: Scott Smith via Flickr

4Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) After taking the summer off from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter returns to start a new year with his friends Ron and Hermione. Filled with magical adventure, this movie reminds kids that heading back to school can be exciting.

5. Akeelah and the Bee (2006) Dare to dream big with this story of a disadvantaged girl with a knack for spelling. Akeelah Anderson overcomes incredible barriers to make it all the way to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. You will love this inspiring tale about setting goals and achieving them.

6. Freaky Friday (2003)
Tess Coleman and her teen daughter Anna switch bodies, thanks to some fortune cookies. Tess soon finds herself back in high school, which is a lot more complicated than she remembers.

7. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)
Just before summer break, four best friends find a pair of magical jeans that fits each of them. To stay connected during their season apart, they share the pants, as well as messages to each other and stories of their summers.

8. Fame (1980)
Long before reality television, there was this gritty fictional story about what it’s like to be a young performer trying to get into show business. The music will tempt you to groove along with the heartaches and triumphs of these gifted students at a high school that specializes in music, dance, and acting.

9. Mean Girls (2004)
When the home-schooled daughter of zoologists goes to public school for the first time, she finds out that no predator on Earth is more treacherous than her fellow teenagers. This film is a look at peer pressure that keeps things funny and avoids getting preachy.

Mom&DaughterWatchingMovie10. Friday Night Lights (2004)
Back to school also means back to sports—namely, football. Get ready for varsity gridiron action with this perfectly paced movie that also packs a lot of heart.

While a movie will not soothe all the angst your children may be feeling, it can offer some much-need perspective, as well as a distraction. Pop some corn and relax with them as you enjoy these films.

Guide to Upcycling Wooden Pallets

Wooden-PalletWooden pallets: they’re everywhere, they’re free (or almost free) and they’re versatile. Inside and outside they can be converted into inspiring and functional pieces of furniture. Here is a brief guide to upcycling wooden pallets .

Before You Get Started Wooden pallets are used for shipping; they keep items secure during long distance transit as well as in warehouses when goods are being moved by forklifts. They’re very sturdy but discarded fairly quickly after use – making them the perfect material for upcycling. But, because they’re cheap, discarded materials, working with them comes with pitfalls.

Selection Because they’ve traveled across the country and maybe an ocean or two, pallets have likely been exposed to chemicals and bacteria. When you’re choosing palates from a pile, use your instincts. Don’t take anything home that looks or smells terrible – it’s probably not safe. Try to stick with the clean ones and look for stamps and markings to tell you if it’s safe to use.

Preparation Scrub down the pallets with a strong disinfectant and soapy water to get rid of any bacteria lurking in the wood. Rinse it well. Bacteria grow in moist spots, so make sure it’s completely dry before starting your project.

Dismantle They can be tough to take apart, but if you’re willing to work with shorter pieces of wood, you can saw off the joints connected by nails and avoid the hassle of nail removal.

Wooden-PalletOutside Projects

Patio Furniture Pallets are sturdy enough to stand up to most of the elements which make them ideal for patio furniture. There’s no limit on the size of outdoor seating. It can be as small as a single-seat bench or big enough to accommodate five people. Construction is minimal and requires few tools. The most thought you’ll put into it is for the color of the cushions to finish off the furniture.

Gardens Pallets are a practical material for getting creative with gardens. If you just want a simple raised bed, it only takes about three pallets to put one together. With even less work and fewer pallets, you can turn a wall into garden; all you need is your garden supplies and finishing materials (landscape fabric, staple gun, staples, and sand paper) for the pallet.

Inside Projects

Beds If you’re familiar and comfortable with platform beds, wooden pallets can be collected and fitted to make a bed in just about any size and shape you need. A drill and brackets are about as complicated as the accessories get to put together a durable bed frame.

Shelves Wooden pallets as shelves give a living room or bedroom a rustic quality when the texture is left untouched. But pallet wood is, generally, good quality – some are made with cherry wood or maple – so when the wood is sanded and finished, the product can be elegant.

Wooden-PalletTables Pallets can be transformed into tables of different sizes – an end table, a coffee table and even a dining room table. Because you’re making it yourself, you can tailor the table for your needs – add compartments or drawers to make magazine storage or shelves to put books.

If you’ve never thought about upcycling pallets before, you will now. Even the least crafty people can turn out an original furniture design with the wooden pallet.  As your ideas about what you can make with them start to develop in your head, you’ll start noticing how easy they are to find and once you get started, you’ll find they’re easy to work with, too.

5 Back to School Organizing Tips

Back-to-schoolThe first week back at school is here and it’s hectic. No one is ever prepared for the chaos that comes with that first week. Take it easy and go with the flow with these back to school organizing tips.

Review Think back to the last school year and how mornings were carried out. Remember what worked and what didn’t work. Eliminate practices that slowed mornings down and improve the ones that helped move mornings along. Tailor new routines to fit personalities and habits of your growing children. They’re evolving, so their routines should evolve with them.

Back-to-schoolVisualize It Make a list of things for each person to do in the morning and a list for the evening. Most tasks will be repeated daily, so you don’t have to recreate lists every day, but you may have to add to them. Do it on a chalkboard or dry erase board so everyone can see what they’re responsible for. When you and your family follow what’s written on the agenda, it will be harder to miss something.

In Box, Out Box Next to your daily schedule, set aside a basket or box for school papers going to you – report cards, permission slips, etc. Look at it before you sit down to breakfast and make sure to sign or read everything before the day starts. It will save you the time and energy of looking for papers at the last minute when you’re rushing to get out the door.

Plan Ahead If there’s anything you and your children can do the night before, do it. Put cookies and chips in lunch bags, lay out clothes for the next day or set aside breakfast food and dishes for the morning. Set up everything so the only thing you have to do in the morning is execute the task. It will shave time off the morning routine and you’ll walk out the door a little less frazzled.

Back-to-schoolSchedule Schedules are the key for a smooth morning. For shared bathrooms, mornings can feel frantic. Allot each person a certain time when they can be in the bathroom for their morning mirror time. With set times, the risk of conflict is greatly reduced. Set a time for everyone to be at the breakfast table to eat and get lunches sorted. With everyone operating the morning machine, getting out the door and to school and work on time will become a habit.

Starting the day never feels as good as we want it to, but it doesn’t have to be crazy. Getting things sorted ahead of time with plenty of communication helps develop positive patterns to begin the school day and leads to a great school year.

5 Tips to Make Moving Easy

We’re in the middle of the busiest time of year for moving. However, no matter what time of year it is, moving is a hassle. Her are 5 tips to make moving easy.

Moving1. First Night Bag Pack an overnight bag or small box with all your essentials. This “first night” bag ensures you will not have to search for a change of clothes, medication, and toiletries before you lie down for some rest after a hectic moving day. It also is a good place for a small flashlight, as well as electronics like laptops and cellphones that can easily become misplaced or even stolen. Every member of the family—including pets–should have their own first night bag. Children’s bags should include any stuffed animals they sleep with and storybooks in case they need help calming down to sleep. Pack a few toys, an extra leash, treats, and a few servings of food in your pet’s bag.

2. Easy Access For every room, have a clear box filled with the things you will need first so you can find them quickly. It is a handy way to ensure you know where toilet tissue is for the bath, basic cookware and utensils are for the kitchen, and phone chargers are for the bedrooms. Remember to also have an additional clear box with trash bags, paper towels, box cutters, and other things you will need as you unpack.Moving

3. Purge Moving is a wonderful opportunity to get rid of things you do not want or need anymore. Decide what to do with unwanted items early to get them out of the way. It can take time to sell items online or at your own yard sale. If you want to use auction or sales websites, begin the sales or start advertising items about six weeks before your move. Not only will this prevent procrastination, what you get from the sales will also help pay for the move! For items you want to donate, arrange for a charity to pick them up a week or two before you move. Go on the Salvation Army or Goodwill websites to find the nearest locations.

4. Get It Sorted Sort through pantry items and household papers before packing them. There is no reason to take an expired can of pears to your new home. Pitch it now. Also, paper can take up a lot of space, and boxes full of it are heavy. Shred and throw out old junk mail and outdated paperwork. As for the papers you need to keep, photograph it or make digital scans, then save those files on a memory stick or cloud service. You will have readily available copies in case the originals get lost or damaged.

Moving5. Prepare the Basics  If you can, visit your new home before the move and get the kitchen and bathroom ready to use. These will be the first rooms your family will want to use, and you will want them in working order. Hopefully, the previous owner gave the house a complete cleaning, but take along some basic supplies just in case. Stock up the bathroom with toilet paper, towels, and a new shower curtain and liner.

There probably is no way to have a completely stress-free move. But with a little preparation, it is possible to make it simple so you can start enjoying your new home without a headache.