Category Archives: Northwest Artists & Creative Genius

Creative Genius: Elegant Elephant Baking Company Drops Gluten-free Goodies At Your Door

Elegant Elephant Baking Company Eugene. MomsicleBlog

A CSA for baking? Is that really a thang??

I wouldn’t believe it except that I was part of a CSA (community supported agriculture) in the Bronx that delivered bread and granola along with veggies. It was amazing! I feel like the more of my food that can be delivered by cool, local peeps, the better. It was awesome then, and with kids, it’s even better now.

So I wanted to hear more when a friend told me her sister Jessie, in Eugene, Oregon, was getting a bakery-boxes, CSA-like project off the ground. Jessie’s business, Elegant Elephant Baking Company, already delivers gluten-free goodies with mostly local and organic ingredients to 15 coffee shops, markets, and other spots in the Eugene area. She’s on Kickstarter (here) until October 17, 2013, to raise funds to expand the business to deliver bakery boxes directly to customers. (UPDATE: It’s funded!!! Now you can say you knew Jessie way back before she got famous.)

Jessie started Elegant Elephant Baking Company at the urging of her husband Evan, who adored her gluten-free cookies (Jessie has celiac disease) and noticed that on his local dairy delivery route–yes, she married the milkman!–nobody was selling gluten-free goods. So Elegant Elephant started up and has gotten rave reviews: The buyer at Market of Choice told Jessie that her twisted-berry scone was the best gluten-free item she had ever eaten!

Elegant Elephant Baking Company. MomsicleBlog

Jessie is also the mom of Ella the-elegant-elephant, who is two.

Elegant Elephant Baking Company. MomsicleBlog

I’m always interested in how moms are investing in their careers while raising children. Speaking from experience it’s a complex picture and constantly feels like uncharted waters. So I got the chance to go back-and-forth with Jessie about the business and her new delivery venture.

Elegant Elephant Baking Company. MomsicleBlog

Me: Tell me more about how Elegant Elephant Baking Company started.

Jessie: I have had celiac disease for eight years, and during that time I’ve had to learn to cook and bake from scratch—something I would have scoffed at previous to my diagnosis.

During my pregnancy, I really kicked it into high gear, trying new things like fried foods, cinnamon rolls, and decadent cookies. (Primarily from the wicked cravings I had for Cinnabon and Chicken McNuggets—things I hadn’t eaten for years prior to not being allowed to!). After mastering a chocolate chip cookie recipe, we had some friends over and I got a wild hair and added toffee and peanut butter chips to the mix and—Violá!—my friends and Evan couldn’t stop talking about them. [These cookies are Elegant Elephant’s Not Your Average Cookies.]

Elegant Elephant Baking Company. MomsicleBlog

Evan at the time was a delivery driver for Lochmead (a local dairy—so yes, I did marry the milkman) and he noticed that at every account no one was selling gluten-free baked goods. I already knew this due to the lack of edible items available at every local coffee shop. I was used to sitting at coffee with friends while they sipped and snacked—and I would keep little treats in the car.

So with Evan’s encouragement, I decided to pursue a small venture as a gluten-free cookie maker for Eugene. My very first account, Eugene Coffee Company, really opened my eyes to what it meant to have a wholesale food business—like having a commercial kitchen and liability insurance and other necessities for selling food. Evan and I had imagined I’d bake ‘em and take ‘em, no big deal. We were wrong! But in the 16 months we’ve been open, we’ve expanded our offerings from that one cookie to brownies, scones, pies, rolls, and many, many more.

We also now have over 15 accounts including Market of Choice, and two spots on the University of Oregon campus. I’m in the works preparing my commercial kitchen to be gluten-free certified—which, with the new FDA regulations–is huge.

Me: I’m always interested in how moms make life work. So how does the bakery schedule work out with your parenting schedule?

Elegant Elephant Baking Company. MomsicleBlog

Jessie: This is growing more complicated by the day! When I had my daughter Ella, my husband was working full-time and I had the luxury of staying home most of the time. We are very fortunate to have a lot of family support, as Ella has six grandparents who all live in Eugene and are very active in her life. Last December, six months after I started up the business, Evan injured his back and hasn’t been able to return to work. We suddenly found ourselves without income (as the profits of the business are still being turned back into the business every month), moving onto my parents’ property, and fighting a battle with the workers compensation company. It’s a long story!

But Evan is now healthy, and has decided to begin doing sales part-time with Elegant Elephant, as well as returning to school in business. With the help of our family we have three days a week of free childcare, and I try to do all of my baking and delivering on these days. So far it has worked out well, and Evan is able to have his school schedule fall on these days also, so he is available to work or have Ella while I bake or work the other days of the week. It’s not perfect but we make it work. 🙂 And Ella is one lucky little girl to be surrounded by so many people who want to dote on her.

Me: Where did “Elegant Elephant” come from? It’s adorable and alliterative–I want to know the story…. 

Jessie: It was hard to choose a name for the business: At the time we weren’t sure if Ella was going to have celiac (my father and I both have it, and she had a 50% chance), so we wanted to have her included somehow. I wanted to go with “Mommy and Me Bake Gluten Free” but Evan thought it was too cutesie. Ella is very interested in elephants, and I played around with lots of names but landed on Elegant Elephant Baking–it just seemed to fit!

Me: You provide baked goods to local Eugene spots like Theo’s Coffeehouse, Market of Choice, Capella, and The Buzz Cafe. How did you convince them that Elegant Elephant was a great bet?

Elegant Elephant Baking Company. MomsicleBlog

Jessie: The convincing of accounts was and is quite interesting. Almost all of the places I go don’t have other gluten-free goods, so it seems like it should be an instant Yes!, however people who aren’t gluten-free often don’t realize there is such a demand for it. But if I can work the chain of command enough to bring in samples, then I’ve only ever had a few places still say no. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, or in our case the scone.

When I finally sat down with the buyer at Market of Choice, she took one bite of my scone and said it was the best gluten-free item she had ever eaten–and she’s been in the biz a long time. That compliment meant–and means–a lot.

Me: I like to experiment with gluten-free baking, but the coconut flour I’ve been using lately seems to soak up all the moisture and totally change my dough. Please help the novice!

Jessie: About baking gluten-free–most alternative flours suck all the moisture out due to the starchiness (a technical term!). For these flours—rice, coconut, etc.—I find that adding additional butter and egg white are super helpful to keep the consistency right.

I also can tell from the dough if it is going to hold together once baked. Ideally you want to pinch it with your fingers and have it mainly retain the mark, but not be too rigid, and not too sticky. Gluten free baking takes a lot of trial and error–and patience.

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If you want to support this small, local business, visit Elegant Elephant’s Kickstarter page here. The cool thing about Kickstarter is that when you donate to support a project, there’s a reward (for example, brownie bites or twisted-berry scones!).

Jessie, good luck! I can’t wait to try everything when I’m in Eugene next!

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Other ways to connect with Elegant Elephant Baking Company:

All photos courtesy Jessie Scarola. And thanks to Jenny for putting us in touch!

Creative Genius: Scout’s Honor Clothing Company for Modern Tomboys

Scout's Honor Clothing Company for modern tomboys

I get goosebumps when I see friends boldly following their creative passions. I imagine it’s like ripping your heart out and putting it on display for everyone to step on, toss around, and ultimately–hopefully–lift up and make successful.

It takes GUTS. And there’s risk.

(Risk is a four-letter word that I tread lightly around.)

So I’ve got goosebumps all over seeing see my friend Clare Marie from college (top right, wearing her shirt The Scout) starting Scout’s Honor Clothing Company for modern tomboys, out of San Francisco. 

I love androgyny. I love seeing a woman rock a good “guy’s” look and make it her own. Most of all, I love this scarf. 

Scout's Honor Clothing Company for modern tomboys

It was the scarf that inspired me to become a Scout’s Honor backer on Kickstarter. I’ve never backed anything before. But I wanted that scarf. And for $38 I could have the scarf and be one of the founding backers.

(Do you know about Kickstarter? I didn’t. It’s an online way to fund creative projects. The artist creates a campaign and sets a target amount. If the target amount is pledged by the campaign’s end, the project gets its funding: If not, no moolah. Scout’s Honor is in the final week of its Kickstarter campaign, and is 76% funded–just $2,144 to go.)

Although I can appreciate and drool over a kick-ass braided scarf, I have no idea what it takes to start your own fashion line (besides raw talent and creative cojones) so Clare let us into her world to talk about what it’s like being the genius behind an upstart little fashion brand–or as she calls it, her “extremely unpaid internship.”

Scout's Honor Clothing Company logo

Me: Starting your own business is brave. I’m scared thinking about it. What pushed you to finally dive in?

Clare Marie: But you do have your own business! [Editor’s note: Sort of.] And it is really scary; I think the scariest part of it is how public it is, but sharing my journey with friends, family, and strangers has also been part of the fun.

Scout's Honor Clothing Company for modern tomboys

I’ve wanted to study fashion since I can remember. Almost a decade ago, I was getting set to apply for the Masters in Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion, but life happened, so that didn’t. Later I made a new plan: work full-time until 2014, save some money, and if you’re still not happy, go to fashion school full-time.

But, again, life happened.

A couple years ago I lost one of my two part-time jobs (still haven’t managed to get that full-time thing going) and decided to just go for it. I couldn’t afford to go to private design school, and I couldn’t afford to leave my other job, but I could take a ton of evening classes at the local community college–and honestly, while we don’t have as much fancy equipment, the instructors at CCSF [City College of San Francisco] are bar none, and that’s what really matters.

Most of them also teach at those private schools I’d dreamed of attending–often they teach the exact same class. They are industry experts, and are very generous with their skills and knowledge. I feel very lucky to have found the program.

Me: Yes, but classes are one thing. Actually doing it is another beast entirely.

Clare Marie: One of the classes I took was “Creating a Garment Business.” That’s where Scout’s Honor was born. I’d been trying to figure out what I really wanted out this experience. Who did I want to work for? What did I want my role to be? And how was I going to make that happen?

I never thought of myself as a business-oriented person. I’m a creative person; I like to make things. But as I worked my way through the business class, I realized that starting a business is the ultimate creative pursuit, not to mention the ultimate learning experience. You get to do it all! It’s your vision, coming to life!

In the class we had to make timelines: production schedules, projected budgets, plans for growth. I would always title them “Scout’s Honor fantasy timeline.” And then one day I realized, well, the first date on my fantasy timeline hasn’t actually passed yet. What if I followed it? What if I did the thing I said I could do by that date, and then I did the next thing, and the next thing? It wouldn’t be easy, but at least I had a plan.

So I set off. I sometimes like to call it my “extremely unpaid internship.”

Scout's Honor Clothing Company for modern tomboys

I learned to do as much as I could on my own, and I would work with experts when I needed to. Sometimes hiring people–mostly patternmakers and samplemakers, because at the end of the day, the garments need to be perfect.

Scout's Honor Clothing Company for modern tomboys

But a lot of it has involved just picking the brains of friends and acquaintances. You’d be surprised how many people have a connection to the garment industry, or have other skills and knowledge that have helped me find my way. And they’re almost always happy to help.

Me: What was it like to do your first fashion photo shoot? Glamorous, right??

Clare Marie: Oh, of course. No. I don’t know. I over-prepared, but maybe not in all the right ways. My models were all friends, helping me out of the goodness of their hearts, so I wanted to be sure to keep them happy–maybe even happy enough that they’d do it again!

So I wound up bringing a whole bunch of food–cookies, hummus and veggies, sandwich makings–plus all my shirts, plus a whole bunch of other clothes. All this, essentially to the middle of a forest. A city forest, but still. And then once I got there, I sort of had a “What now?” moment.

Scout's Honor Clothing Company for modern tomboys

What I can say from this whole experience–not just the photoshoot but all of it–is, wow, I have amazing friends. Both the photographer and another friend–she became my stylist-slash-director–helped me prep for the shoot.

They encouraged me to come up with a story, and I think that was really helpful. The story: we were old friends, reliving our memories of summer camp together.

Scout's Honor Clothing Company for modern tomboys

The idea was a little, well, campy, but that helped make it fun, and loosened everyone up. Once we started, I was more than happy to let Stephanie (stylist/director) and Liz (photographer) take the reigns. They both had a lot more experience in that sort of situation. My main role was to make sure everyone was happy, to thank them profusely, and occasionally make requests like “Can we get the red Wrangler with those jeans?”

A few days into the Kickstarter campaign, I decided I wanted to supplement the photos we had with something a little more hip and current, and I was fortunate to be able to coordinate with one of my studio-mates and a good friend who has the perfect look. [Editor’s note: That’s this photo, from the top.]

Scout's Honor Clothing Company for modern tomboys

That shoot was totally different, much more relaxing for me, I think because it was so much less of an unknown. I didn’t bring a picnic, only had one change of pants. It was much more impromptu. At the end of the day, I’m really happy with the results of both, and I learned a ton about what I can do in the future to make it even smoother.

Me: Where do you want Scouts Honor Clothing Company to be in a year?

Clare Marie: Good question! Well, the building where I currently share studio space with nine other people–leatherworkers, printmakers, woodworkers, a photographer–has a funky little storefront [1564 MRKT] that we’ll be bringing to life over the next couple months, so I’m excited that I’ll be able to sell my shirts to folks in person as well as online.

BUT that building is scheduled to be torn down in one to two years (our rent is dirt cheap because of this), so I need to figure out what’s going to come next. I’d love to continue to have access to a storefront, but that may not realistic, financially, so one of my major goals is to find accounts with local boutiques so that I can continue to have a physical presence.

In a perfect world, Scout’s Honor will be self-sustaining in a year. That is to say, it will be my job, and earn me enough to stay afloat in the expensive but magical city [of San Francisco]. In order to make this happen, I’ll need to expand the collection. I have a couple other shirts in the works, and after that I’ll add jeans and shorts, after that a coat. I’d like to partner with other designers who are working on similar projects. I’d like to be making all my own patterns.

Me: Well, it’s happening! Go Clare! 

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You can get your own scarf, or camp mug, or postcard, or Wrangler shirt, or Scout shirt here.

But don’t feel pressured. Here are some other ways to follow Clare’s journey and show your support for this fledgling fashion line:

Like Scout’s Honor on Facebook

Shout at Scout’s Honor on Twitter (@wearscoutshonor)

Follow Scout’s Honor on Instagram (scoutshonorclothingco)

Or just leave a little love note or smiley face in the comments to tell Clare Marie what you think….

Boozed + Infused: The Backstory

The Internet sucks up my time with a vacuum hose, but sometimes it rewards me with an e-friend who invites me over for cocktails, and then lets me stay to drink liquor out of mason jars from her closet.

Craigslist would say this is a bad idea.

My personal experience of having a roommate with a million skeezy Internet boyfriends (she met them all on AIM chat–and gratefully I only met a few of them in person) would also suggest that meeting strangers for drinks at their homes would be a bad idea.*

*Not Caitlin the cheesemaker from Milk’s Leap, she was one of the most wonderful roommates ever! In fact, all my roommates have been awesome except that one.

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But I think there was more fear on my new e-friend Alicia’s part (or there should have been). She did invite us over to her house (Not sure who Alicia is? She’s a big part of the genius behind Boozed + Infused, the amazing home-infused liqueurs blog. Find out why you should love her here.)

A few months back Alicia and I crossed paths on the interwebs, and I fell in love. I asked if I could feature her under my Northwest Artists & Creative Genius series. She was flattered and suggested that I should taste her infusions before writing about them.

Brilliant idea, Alicia! 

Strangely, my husband was not worried.

So then why stop there–I begged Alicia to make it a foursome and let me invite my other e-friend girl-crushes.

I mean, suddenly I’m the cool girl with an invitation to try home-infused liqueurs. My crushes would have to like me now. Right??**

**Do you like me? __ Yes   __ No   __ Maybe __ Yes, if you pay for a massage once a week

That’s how Krista from Mostly Mommyhood and Poppy from Funny or Snot also showed up at Alicia’s.  They are smart, sassy women who have cool/hilarious mom blogs. Check them out if you’re in to that sort of thing.

(Left to right: Alicia, Poppy, Krista)

None of this seemed weird until I rang Alicia’s doorbell. What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks were we doing? It’s not a good idea to go to a stranger’s house for candy. It’s not a good idea to invite volatile-weirdo-moms over, especially if you don’t know them.

But THANK YOU Alicia for taking a chance on us.

We started out with blueberry pieball cocktails and then moved on to coffee-bourbon milkshakes. The pieballs were perfect for a beautiful afternoon, and the milkshakes really would have been better served by the gallon in a trough. And if you decide to make the milkshake at home, you might make an extra bucket so your family can have some.

But our surprise thrill was getting to see Alicia’s closet where she stores her concoctions. It’s worth posting again.

This is the most awesome liquor closet in the world. It’s like Cool Moon Ice Cream for the 21-and-over set. We had a million spoons and dozens of jars of home-infused liqueur at our fingertips.

Note: Poppy doesn’t really have any spots on her face. Apparently that’s Instagram’s instant liver-spot effect. Please don’t throw our love away, Poppy.

Here’s Krista after a few spoonfuls…

I’m blushing and feeling hung over just thinking about the experience. I’m also feeling lucky that I didn’t have to sleep on Alicia’s front porch after she thought I had left.

The moral of this story is: Sometimes it’s worth it to risk your life for new friends and liquor. Kids, take note.

Wondering what the girl crushes thought of me?

Krista from Mostly Mommyhood, Sometimes Mommy Needs to be Boozed + Infused

Poppy from Funny or Snot, Boozed + Infused: An Invitation

Alicia from Boozed + Infused, Blueberry Gin

Northwest Artists & Creative Genius: Boozed + Infused Blog

Have you met Alicia at Boozed + Infused?

No?! 

Why are you still here? Stop reading this boring post and go learn how to make pineapple liqueur and coffee-bourbon milkshakes.

After experimenting with  the totally homespun drink-infusing genius on Alicia’s blog, you will be able to call yourself a mixologist. In Portland that earns you a lot of cache (and possibly a guest spot on Portlandia).

Alicia and her sister Eileen recently started Boozed + Infused, and already they’re building a vibrant pocket community of infusing enthusiasts. You know a blog is well on its way when posts have comments, and Boozed + Infused even gets nerdy comments from other infusers: Awesome!

I’m just a lowly groupie, but I still snagged a sweet invitation to Alicia’s for cocktails. It was possibly the best day of 2012.

Even if you’re not in PDX, you’ll love Boozed + Infused, and you’ll be rewarded with epic coolness points at all the summer barbecues you go to when you show up with homemade coconut liqueur or tamarind-orange gin.

Now git on over!

You’re still here.

Well, stalker, here are a few more ways to get your Boozed + Infused on…

You’ll definitely want to follow Boozed + Infused on Pinterest.

And why not add @BoozedInfused to your Twitter party?

No? You’re more of a Facebook junkie?  Go like Boozed + Infused!

Seriously, why haven’t you left?

Will a recipe for a Blueberry Pieball cocktail make you go away?

Blueberry Pieball (It’s a play on the classic highball cocktails)

  • 1.5 oz Blueberry Gin
  • 0.5 oz Dry Vermouth
  • 0.5 oz Brandy
  • 3 oz club soda
  • 2 oz ginger ale
  • lemon twist
  • Blueberry Ice Cubes (made from blueberry juice) and frozen blueberries to keep the drink cold

Pour each of the ingredients into a tall glass, add a few blueberry ice cubes, frozen blueberries, and one regular ice cube, then garnish with a lemon twist.

Recipe courtesy of Boozed + Infused (visit to find more tips for this drink). Thank you, Alicia!

And if you haven’t had enough, yet, the backstory is next… It includes three other women and hard alcohol.

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Geometric triangle pattern from August Empress. Title fonts from dafont.com.

Northwest Artist Anya Roberts-Toney

This is the first in a new series of posts highlighting art & creativity in the Pacific Northwest. 

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Anya Roberts-Toney is a friend. And when you see a friend’s artwork you expect to be excited. It’s gutsy and energizing to see someone else put their mind to paper. But it’s a friend, so you don’t expect to be blown away…

Flight

But when I saw Anya’s paintings nestled almost like house guests in her cozy Portland apartment I was stunned.

Doll Fight

Anya’s paintings are dream-like narratives weaving tales of the fragility of childhood and loss of innocence. I don’t always do well with this story line now that I have two young children, but the children in Anya’s paintings make me feel like there remains a jaggedy shard of bright childhood sunshine can be polished and cradled and nourished.

The Game

Anya is based in Northwest Portland and I look forward to seeing her work in Oregon galleries in 2012. Enjoy her full portfolio at AnyaRobertsTony.com.

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All images of paintings copyright Anya Roberts-Toney. Geometric triangle pattern from August Empress. Title fonts from dafont.com.