Brand Names

brand namesIt’s grilling season, but we couldn’t JUST serve up a steak. We had to make it personal.

Today, we’re testing a “BBQ Branding Iron” which purports to “Add a name or message to your steak!” It’s offered by multiple Amazon sellers each using different descriptive names, but every listing appears to sell the exact same product. Prices range from $11.65 to $39.99, but we paid in the lower range and ordered from a seller who offered Prime shipping.

bbq branding iron boxThe box includes a handle with a letter block, individual letters, blanks to insert between the letters, a small wrench, and 2 metal loops to prevent the letters from sliding out of the block.

bbq branding iron box contentsOur office grill champion took on the task of testing the bbq brander. Take it away Katie!


First, I hand-washed the metal letters, letter track and two loop locks before playing around with funny messages to brand. “YES” was an easy choice, as was “DO NOT TOUCH” and “THIS IS MINE.” I finally settled on “GET IN MY BELLY.” When arranging the letters, you have to remember to put them into the letter track backwards. It’s easy to forget, particularly with some letters that aren’t identifiable already backwards. The kit also includes blank metal spaces to separate the words in your message. You attach the two loop locks on either side of the letter track to keep everything in place as you are using the iron.

putting together the lettersOnce I felt confident I had everything backwards and spelled correctly, I headed out to start cooking. Beef steak was first.

ready to grillAs my grill was heating up, I put the branding iron inside and made sure to leave the wood handle sticking out. I grilled one side of my steak, flipped it over, and tried the iron. Despite having left the wood handle outside of the grill, it was still hot. VERY hot. Not wanting to continue burning the palm of my hand, I dropped the branding iron and scurried to my kitchen to get an oven mitt.

The second attempt was a success. After 10 seconds of leaving the hot branding iron on the sizzling meat, the message “GET IN MY BELLY” appeared on the steak. Nice!

grilled steakThe next food test was for our vegetarian and vegan friends: TOFU! (Side note: I am not a tofu connoisseur and had no idea it comes in different sizes and varying consistencies. Who knew? I do now!). I went extra firm, to get as close to the consistency of steak as I could.

extra firm tofuIn order to change the letters, I ran the branding iron under cold water and simply slid the used letters out of the track. Not feeling terribly creative, I changed the message to read “NOT MEAT.”

Perhaps my inexperience grilling tofu didn’t help with the branding, but it was an epic fail. I tried multiple times to make the “NOT MEAT” brand dark enough on the tofu. Not once did it work. I tried leaving the brand on the grill for more time, putting the iron on the tofu longer, and it just didn’t take. I also thoroughly destroyed the tofu as I was flipping it over (and over).

tofu failMy thoughts on the BBQ Branding Iron? Steaks – beef, pork, lamb – and certainly chicken breast are the choice meat to use in order to get the message sufficiently branded. I suspect that hamburger might also work, but since I didn’t test the iron on a burger, I’m not sure. Tofu is definitely a no-go.

There were some reviewers who felt there weren’t enough letters included in the package, and that the letter track was too small and should be wider for longer messages. I can fully appreciate and understand their concerns.

I believe the BBQ Branding Iron would provide a clever personal touch for a reception or party where steaks are on the menu. It also would be a great gift for someone who loves to grill. Personally, I can’t imagine myself using it on a regular basis.

Recommended for grill masters, meat lovers, and party planners!

Once Upon a LEGO

once upon a legoIt started with an excited text from Katie: “Check out this LEGO set!” The accompanying image made my heart go pitter pat. LEGO has created a fairy tale pop-up book. I think it took oh…maybe 15 seconds for me to order one for blog testing? The set was Katie’s discovery, so she gets to do the honors. Take it away, Katie!


The brilliant folks at LEGO have done it again. They created an honest-to-goodness pop-up book out of LEGO bricks!

Before I go any further, I will fully admit that I was quite skeptical when I saw the “Once Upon a Brick” Pop-Up Book from LEGO’s Ideas line set in my son’s new 2019 LEGO catalogue. It claimed it was the “First pop-up book in LEGO history” and features two fairy tale stories: Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk. Awesome, but would it work?

lego once upon a brick boxThe set retails between $50-$70. There are 859 pieces in the box and the suggested age range is 12+. The instruction manual is a novel in its own right, weighing in at a hefty 162 pages. I loved that at the start of the instruction manual, LEGO introduced the fan designers who came up with the original idea for the pop-up book, as well as the LEGO designers who helped bring the book to LEGO life.

lego once upon a brick fan designersLEGO also provided the history of pop-up books, which date back to the 13th century, and briefly discussed the two fairy tales that are a part of the set. Along with words of encouragement to “Create your own fairy tale!” and “Build your own story…,” the instructions to build your LEGO set starts.

There are six bags of LEGOs to build the pop-up book. I found the instruction manual was straight-forward and easy to follow. There were only a few times when the instruction images were a bit tricky and forced me to slow down to pay close attention to the details. There are also lots of little pieces, especially when building Jack and the Beanstalk, so have your nimble fingers ready to attach small LEGOs to each other.

see katie build legoThe instructions have you build the Little Red Riding Hood cottage first. As I attached the pieces inside the book covers, I wasn’t sure the cottage would properly fold down and create the pop-up book illusion. But it really works!

little red riding hood lego set


After carefully removing the cottage from the book, I built the Jack and the Beanstalk tiny town and the beanstalk itself (complete with the giant’s castle at the top!). The town is adorable, surrounded by puffy white clouds, and the beanstalk grows when you open up the book. You read that right: the beanstalk grows as you open up the book.

jack and the beanstalk lego set


The attention to detail with this LEGO set is remarkable. You get the feeling that you are handling a real book when you have it in your hands, and the ease of how the pieces pop-up when you open the covers is stunning.

once upon a brick lego bookMy *only* complaint – and perhaps it is merely a humble suggestion – is that the little windmill blades in the Jack and the Beanstalk tiny town should have been a different color. They sort of blend into the white clouds surrounding them.

windmill suggestionIt took me about three hours to put the LEGO set together. I do agree with the suggested age range of 12+. The complexity of the set would be tough for younger kids to complete on their own, but they could probably build it with assistance from an adult.

My rating for the newest book in the Cotsen Children’s Library special collection: 5 out of 5 stars!

Sip n’ Spell

sip n spellWe’ve all eaten our words from time to time, but how taking a cool sip of your favorite beverage through them? Katie and her son tested this intriguing concept with Spell & Sip customizable straws by Spelly (Amazon, $15).

spell and sip straws by spellyThese BPA free straws are advertised for ages 4-99. The set contains 44 pieces. This includes an assortments of alphabet letters, 4 straw ends, and 2 sets of symbols.

spell and sip straws box contents

Our package had four A’s, no V’s and four emojis (2 hash tags and 2 hearts). We thought the letter selection to be bit strange, particularly when many names have multiple vowels or consonants. A child named Violet or Victor would be way disappointed receiving Spell & Sip as a gift.

As you can see, each letter and symbol is skewered with a hollow plastic tube connector. To make a custom straw, snap together your letters, add 2 straw ends, and you’re ready to go!

katie and dana straws

Katie’s son took the lead with testing. Water was first, followed by milk. Both were easy to drink, although there were some bubbles at mouth end of the straw at first. Turns out her son hadn’t attached that end of the straw tightly enough. Once fixed, the bubbles disappeared and there was absolutely no leaking (despite the fact that the connection was still somewhat semi-loose).

Next up, a chocolate milkshake from Mooyah, his favorite burger joint. Unfortunately, the thicker consistency of the liquid caused difficulties. With some effort, but he was eventually able to get the shake into his mouth. But the test straw was soon abandoned for the restaurant-provided wider straw (and faster consumption of the shake).

milkshake testNow the real test…cleaning! Katie put the used letters and pieces into the silverware basket of her dishwasher, closing the basket lid secretly praying the hot water wouldn’t melt anything. This was doubly risky because there was absolutely nothing on the product’s box that mentioned cleaning or being dishwasher-safe (only a statement that the company is “Not responsible for any damage caused by improper use or care”).

letters in dishwasher

However, success! The straw pieces emerged cleaned and not melted. They were still pretty wet, and required extra drying time on a paper towel.

Ultimately, the testing team felt Spelly’s Spell & Sip customizable straws were a fun and super clever way to reinforce letters and spelling (though younger kids may need help with taking the pieces apart). Given the difficulties with milkshake, they don’t suggest drinking thick liquids with this product. Another major issue: the missing letter V in the set. Finally, clean the used straws as soon as possible to avoid any residue drying inside the letter pieces – they tend to stay wet for awhile.

Recommended, with thin liquids like water and juice!