Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Man and Mother Nature Collborate - Fabulous Hand Carved Wooden Bowls

HOLLAND, MICHIGAN, USA – The small Michigan town of Holland houses a large, rather nondescript, industrial building that locals and tourists alike ignore every day without realizing that inside, incredible works of functional art – actual collaborative efforts between man and Mother Nature -- are created on a regular basis.

The Holland Bowl Mill
is one of only two wooden bowl manufacturers in the USA (the other is in Alaska and has a very small production). Walking through the warehouse, its cavernous space lined with shelved filled with wooden bowls in various stages of metamorphasizing from logs into exquisite carved bowls that can actually be used to serve food, it’s hard to believe that each one of these pieces was lovingly carved, sanded and finished one at a time, by hand.

“We’re making tomorrow’s antiques,” says mill owner Dave Gier who first got a job at the mill in 1985 and went on to buy the unique company. Gier maintains an old fashioned work ethic and values, creating a quality product by hand much in the same way it was done in the late 1800s when the company was founded.

Holland Bowl Mill, Holland, Michigan, hand carved wooden bowlsHis employees are skilled artisans that have been with him for years. The bowls themselves even come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee – if for any reason there’s breakage or a defect, the Holland Bowl Mill will replace it, no questions asked. Dave laughs about one customer who dropped and cracked a bowl he had owned for fifteen years. “He wanted to buy another and couldn’t believe that instead we replaced his cracked bowl for free – after fifteen years! It really is a forever bowl.”

The bowls enter the mill in the form of huge hardwood logs, most commonly beech, but also maple, cherry and walnut, all from sustainable forests. Specialized lathes transform sections of the logs into sets of bowls, gouging out enough to leave a thin yet durable shell. Each section of log will make four bowls in a carving process called nesting, meaning the finished graduating sized carved bowls will nest in each other.

Holland Bowl Mill, Holland, Michigan, hand carved wooden bowlsWhile the lathes do the actual carving, a real live human being controls the machinery and the knives, making each bowl one at a time. The carver makes it look easy but that’s because he’s had years of practice in order to perfect exactly how much to carve, what angle to hold the knives and how much pressure to use, not to mention how to regularly sharpen and replace the lathe’s blades. ”You need to make knives to make bowls,” says Dave, and looking at the volume of wood these blades regularly plow through, it’s easy to see why.

Most of the wood is actually used in forming the bowls’ shells, with minimal scrap, but in a further example of good old fashioned values, absolutely nothing is wasted right down to the bark and sawdust. What isn’t used to make bowls is sent to recycling centers that put it to practical use as animal bedding or composite wood.

Holland Bowl Mill, Holland, MIAfter the logs have been carved into bowls, they are dried for 20 to 30 days. After that they’re carefully sanded, a process that helps to smooth out imperfections, give the rounded bowl a nice flat bottom that helps it sit on tables or countertops, and accentuate the beautiful art of the wood’s natural grain.

Each bowl now goes through a thorough inspection to make sure there are no cracks, weak spots, or imperfections. If it passes inspection, the bowl is treated to a coating of the company’s special proprietary blend of beeswax and food grade mineral oil.

After drying again, the bowl is ready for shipping and can now be used to serve food and washed in soapy water (although you shouldn’t let it soak).

Holland Bowl Mill, Holland, Michigan, hand carved wooden bowlsDuring peak periods the Holland Bowl Mill can turn out as many as 1800 bowls a week. Many of these are destined for boutiques and upscale specialty stores, along with some smaller chain stores such at Sur La Table. But discriminating consumers (that means you who are reading this article) should know that you can find a much larger variety of the bowls by shopping the Holland Bowl Mill website (or by stopping into their showroom if you happen to be visiting the Holland, Michigan area). The mill even welcomes custom orders, so you can get exactly the bowls you want – choosing the type of wood and finishes.

Whether for a wedding gift, holiday gift, or to treat yourself to an affordable functional work of art that will be a family heirloom to be passed down for generations, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more unique and special than a hand made hardwood bowl from the Holland Bowl Mill.

Check out the Related Travel article links below for details of our favorite things to do see and eat in and around Holland, Grand Haven, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.


The Holland Bowl Mill is located t 120 James St. in Holland, Michigan, 49417. Phone 616-842-4040 or visit their website at www.HollandBowlMill.com.

For more information about visiting Holland, Michigan, visit the Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau website at www.Holland.org or phone 616-394-0000.

For information about visiting Michigan in general, check out the official Travel Michigan website at www.Michigan.org or phone 800-373-2489.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fresh Tomato Tips and Recipes -- Thrifty Thursdays

Fresh tomatoes are in season and whether you've grown them yourselves in the garden or are picking them up at the farmer's market, fresh tomatoes are likely to be a bargain at this time of year. They also taste fabulous! There is simply no comparison between a garden fresh tomato and a commercially grown one.
Preparing Fresh Tomatoes

Storage: Tomatoes will ripen to a juicy red on their own when stored at room temperature. Refrigeration kills flavor in fresh tomatoes.

Coring: Using a sharp paring knife make several angled cuts through the stem and under the core.

Seeding: Lay the tomato on its side and halve with a sharp serrated knife. Squeeze each half firmly enough to push out the seeds. Discard seeds.

Slicing: First core the tomato and lay it on its side. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut a very thin slice off both ends and discard. Slice the tomato to desired thickness.

Peeling: To eliminate the skin in cooked dishes, gently lower 2 or 3 tomatoes at a time into enough boiling water to cover. Boil for 15 to 30 seconds, lift into a colander with a slotted spoon. Rinse briefly under cold running water. Peel off and discard skins.

Stuffing Shells: Lay the tomato on its side and cut a very thin slice off the bottom using a sharp serrated knife. Slice off the top 1/4 of the tomato and discard. (The top minus the core may be chopped and added to the filling.) Using a sharp paring knife and spoon, cut and scoop out the flesh, leaving thickish walls. Salt the cavities lightly and invert on a cooling rack for 15 minutes to drain.

More on Fresh Tomatoes

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fabulous Recipe Fire & Ice Tomatoes

Sorry I have been so quiet lately. I have been dealing with the rapid decline and subsequent death of my dear dog Zoey (that's her picture at left, 13 years ago when she was just 6 weeks old, which is when we rescued her). If you've ever been through the heartbreak of having to put a pet to sleep, you know what I'm talking about. I am, however, slowly coming back to life and will try to post more regularly.

Fire & Ice Tomatoes

The other day I got some garden fresh tomatoes grown by nephew Richard, his beautiful wife Tracy, and my great-niece Madison. These tomatoes are to die for! Of course, I started searching for recipes to make with them (not that I didn't eat some, as is, with just a little salt), and came upon an old favorite I picked up on a long ago travel writer's press trip through Tennessee. Below is the recipe and story behind it.

This recipe comes to us from Vicki and Lee Morgan of the Bailey House Bed and Breakfast and Tearoom in Dayton, Tennessee. Unfortunately, the Bailey House is no longer operating, but we keep this recipe for history's sake -- and because Vicki Morgan is a darn good cook and her recipes are delicious. The building that was, for a short time, a historic inn named The Bailey House, had an important role in history. It was a boarding house and home of John Thomas Scopes, of the Scopes Evolution (Monkey) trial fame. The courthouse where that historic case took place is in close walking distance of what used to be the Bailey House.

The better your tomatoes, the better this dish will be. Its tantalizing sweet and spicy flavor combo is a real winner. This salad packs well for picnics or brown bag lunches.

While the Morgans usually serve this dish as a salad, I also find the lightly pickled tomatoes, onions and bell peppers make great sandwich and burger toppings.

Serves 10

6 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 large bell pepper, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
3/4 cup vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
6 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Combine veggies in a large bowl. Bring vinegar, sugar, salt, water and cayenne to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Pour boiled mixture over veggies. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Serve chilled.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Favorite Summer Cocktails -- Thrifty Thursdays

Going out for cocktails has to be one of the first luxuries left out in difficult financial times, and no wonder, the markup on cocktails at bars and restaurants is astronomical. But don't forgo cocktails, just invite some friends over and make your own instead. You'll save a ton and still have a fabulous summer time. Below are some of my favorite fruity, frozen and refreshing summer cocktails. You'll pay upward for $7.00 to $10.00 a drink for these (at least where I live in Los Angeles). they cost a fraction of that to make at home.

Favorite Summer Cocktail Recipes

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere.