Leave No Trace

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We make Garments for Good, which means that when you shop, we give. Every item of Toad&Co sold contributes to supporting the greater good. We believe, without exception, that adventure and opportunity are possible for everyone. That’s why we support environmental protection groups like the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, is the nonprofit behind all those green signs reminding you to pack in, pack out. Since 1994, the Center has been dedicated to educating the public on how to responsibly enjoy nature. In order to sustain healthy, vibrant wild lands, we should experience and respect the great outdoors while leaving it as untouched as possible.

Leave No Trace is built on seven core principles for enjoying the outdoors responsibly and with the lowest human impact. Although Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry and wilderness, the practices have been adapted so that they can be applied anywhere – from the backcountry, to local parks, to your backyard – and for any recreational activity.

The Seven Principles

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

With a rising global population, it’s our job as individuals to be allies of the earth and teachers to each other. And it’s our job as an outdoor company to protect the wild places that inspire us. As partners of the Leave No Trace Center, we’re proud to support the continued education of environmental stewardship across the globe. For more information, visit ltn.org.

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Right Place, Right Time

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You know that moment when you realize there’s nowhere else you’d rather be? 

Maybe you’re looking at an epic landscape or listening to a mind-bending song. Maybe you’re caught in the rain, soaked to the bone, just happy to be with an old friend. Epic moment or not, it’s the people you’re with who make you feel like you’re in the right place at the right time. We felt that way when we visited some old friends in Chattanooga, TN for the weekend.

Our first afternoon in the Scenic City proved to be ironic – fog so thick you could barely see 50 feet in front of you. Sporadic rain bursts had us scurrying into the nearest bars for cover and a quick liquor jacket. We couldn’t outrun the rain every time, but we didn’t mind so much.

The rest of the weekend was spent reminiscing over boozy brunches, criss-crossing the city by bike, eating like Southern gentry, hiking old Civil War trails, sharing tall drinks and taller tales, bustin’ a few moves, canoeing off hangovers and just soaking up each other’s company. It was a weekend of sight seeing and memory making. Sure, we’ll remember the gorgeous views and the killer burger we had, but we’ll cherish the time we spent together just traipsing trails and gettin’ tipsy in the Dixie.

It was a great weekend in Chattanooga – take it from us, it’s an awesome city and worthy of all the praise (see our list of our must-do’s below). But we could have been anywhere with our friends and we would have been in the right place at the right time. Be it Chattanooga, our hometown, your hometown, or a random place in between, the people make the place. When we’re in good company, there’s nowhere else we’d rather be.

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Chattanooga Must-Do’s:

  1. Sriracha Bloody Mary & Eggs Benny at The Flying Squirrel
  2. The Norman Rockwell Exhibit at Hunter Museum of American Art
  3. Fresh mole enchiladas before 11am at Taqueria Jalisco
  4. Bike across Walnut Street Bridge
  5. New Mexico Burger & Dixie 8 Cocktain at Urban Stack
  6. Avocado Gelato at Milk & Honey
  7. $1 espresso shots from 4-5PM at Brash Coffee
  8. White Shadow Belgian White at Terminal Brewhouse
  9. Gear Up for Cumberland Trail at Rock/Creek Outfitters

 

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Grilled Cheese, Please!

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The results are in, and the 4th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown was one for the books! Thanks to all the folks who participated and brought their A-Game (“A” being for “appetite”, of course). Pair any of the following with beer and tomato soup (because thats what we did) and we’ll see you next year for the 5th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown!

Das Bier Belly Grilled Cheese, Team Toad&C0
Winner of the 2016 Golden Spatula Award

Sandwich Ingredients: Pretzel bun, Honey stone ground mustard (mix honey with your favorite stone ground mustard), Kerrygold butter (or other European style butter), beer cheese (make your own, because why not?)

Make it: Cut off edges of pretzel bun so it is a square shape. Slice bun in half, spread ample butter on outside top and bottom, spread mustard on one side inside and add sliced cheese. Heat a frying pan over medium high heat. Cook one side until nicely browned, flip and cook other side until cheese is melted. Enjoy with a side of Popcorn and bread & butter pickles (and again, make your own because why not?)

Beer Cheese:
7 oz. (1 package) Kerrygold reserve cheddar
3.5 oz. fontina cheese
4 Tbs Kerrygold butter
6 Tbs flour
1/4 cup half and half
2 dashes hot sauce
1 tsp Worcester sauce
1/4 cup brown ale

In a small saucepan, heat butter over medium high heat until melted. Add flour in portions whisking vigorously. Continue to whisk and cook for 1 minute. Add milk until well blended and reaches a consistency that coats the back of a spoon without running off. Slowly add beer until incorporated, then add Worcester and hot sauce. Add cheese and keep whisking until melted with no cheese lumps. Remove from heat. Decant into a parchment paper lined storage container and refrigerate until cool.

Bread & Butter Pickles:
1 cub apple cider vinegar
2 cup water
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 Tbs rainbow peppercorns
1 shallot sliced
2 sprigs dill
2 cucumbers sliced in 1/8” thick rounds on a mandolin
1/2 cup of brown sugar

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except cucumbers and shallots. Bring to boil, remove from heat. Put cucumbers and shallots in large mason jar, pour liquid over, let cool and refrigerate 24 hrs. Eat within 2 weeks (which won’t be a problem).

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Bren Bahn Mi, Team UCSB Bren School Sustainable Fisheries Group 
The 2016 “People’s Choice” Award

Sandwich Ingredients: Bread, butter, shredded gouda cheese, caramel pork (make it yourself, it’s better), pickled carrots and daikon radish (squeezed of excess liquid), thinly sliced cucumber, thinly sliced jalapeno, cilantro

Make it: Liberally butter the outside of two slices of bread. Sprinkle half of the cheese on the inside of one slice and top with a scoop of caramelized pork, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, then top with remaining cheese. Sandwich with the other slice of bread, buttered side up. Grill on medium heat until golden brown and cheesy.

DIY Carmel Pork:
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs water
1 Tbs oil
1 shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound pork tenderloin, thinly sliced
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs lime juice
2 Tbs sriracha

Heat sugar and water in a pan over medium-high heat until it caramelizes, carefully adding the water until the sugar dissolves, then set aside. Heat oil over medium-high heat, add shallots and garlic, cook until the shallot is tender. Add pork, caramel sauce, fish sauce, lime juice and sriracha. Cook about 3-5 minutes.

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Bristol Bay-ngin Sockeye Sliders,Team Salty Girl Seafood
Winner of the 2016 “Fish Outta Water” Award

Ingredients: Avocados, whipped cream cheese, chives (green onions), peppadew peppers, french bread, salt, butter, Smoked Sockeye Salmon (from Bristol Bay, of course)

Make it: Mash avocados, add salt to taste. Chop chives, add to whipped cream cheese. Cut peppers into strips. Butter outsides of bread (for grilling). Add avocado to one side, cream cheese and chives to the other. Place salmon on one side, add peppers, close it up, and throw it on the press!

Goudalicious, Team Santa Barbara City Firefighters
Winner of the “Make America Grate Again” Award

Ingredients: Ethnic Breads Sourdough, fig jam, applewood smoked bacon, bacon smoked gouda cheese, butter, caramelized onions (with a splash of fig jam in the saucepan)

Make it: Grate at least two blocks of bacon smoked gouda. Liberally spread room temp butter on the outside of fresh sourdough bread. Spread a large dollop of fig jam on the inside of the bread. Layer a large handful of cheese, 2 strips of bacon, caramelized onions, more cheese. Twice. Grill until crunchy and cheesy.

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Eat, Cheese, Love, Team Santa Barbara Symphony

Ingredients: Kalamata olive bread, butter, fresh sliced mozzarella, grated parmesan, olive tapenade, capers, caramelized shallots, balsamic reduction.

Make it: Butter both sides of kalamata olive bread. Place two thick slices of fresh mozzarella and lots of grated parmesan on one slice of bread. Spread tapenade on the other slice of bread and drop a few capers onto the tapenade. Combine and grill with lots of butter. When grilled cheese is hot off the press, top with caramelized shallots, shaved parmesan and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

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The Filthy Leprechaun, Team UGG

Ingredients: Rustic white bread, corn beef, caramelized onions soaked in Makers Mark Whiskey, garlic aioli mustard, Irish cheddar, swiss cheese, smoked sharp cheddar, garlic mayonnaise

Make it: Spread a healthy spoonful of garlic mayo on the outside of rustic bread (this is the side you grill). On the inside of the bread, spread garlic aioli mustard then layer with a handful each of shredded Irish cheddar, swiss cheese, shredded corn beef, caramelized onions, smoked sharp cheddar. Grill until crunchy on the outside.

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Grilled Cheesy Beer Pub, Team Ontraport 

Ingredients Brown Beer Sourdough French Toast(eggs, salt, lots of pepper, brown beer instead of cream), smoked gouda,  classic sharp cheddar, sautéed mushrooms (brown butter, shallots, more brown beer, deli mustard and a touch of cream)
Make it: Make fresh french toast and sautéed mushrooms separately. Shred all the cheese. Layer cheese, mushrooms, cheese, mushrooms, cheese between two french toasts. Lightly grill in a panini press until the cheese is perfectly melted!

4th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown

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Veni. Vidi. Cheesy.
They Came. They Saw. They Grilled Cheese.

Centuries from now, when anthropologists look back on the great battles of history, the Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown will rank among the mightiest battles of humankind. A modern day Battle of the Bulge, the 4th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown recently rocked Toad Headquarters on an unseasonably warm spring evening….

This whole thing started a few years back when we heard that April was National Grilled Cheese Month. A holiday we can all get behind, we asked our friends to throw down their best sando’s in a bid for the coveted Golden Spatula Award. Thus, the first battle of the Grilled Cheese Smackdown was waged. Scorned and ready for redemption, the 2nd Grilled Cheese Smackdown pitted veterans vs. newbies, duking it out for Biggest Cheese. The 3rd in a series of intense battles, the 2015 Smackdown saw the rise of an empire as a two-time winner was awarded the Golden Spatula for a second time. So this year, armed with bread knives and sticks of butter, seasoned masters and a handful of new recruits went head to head in the cheesiest, gooiest, most savory Smackdown this side of Waterloo.

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The competition pitted 10 teams against each other – teams from partner non-profits, like-minded local companies and two teams from Toad. At 5:30pm, with griddles on high and spatulas ready at the whim, five teams in Heat #1 brought their finest:

  • Salty Girl Seafood: Newbies to the Grilled Cheese Smackdown, the Salty Girl Seafood team came in swinging with their Bristol Bay-ngin Sockeye Sliders – a sustainable take on a tuna melt, sub sockeye salmon for tuna and avocado cream cheese for swiss. Sounds whacky, tastes amazing. Salty Girl Seafood is a 1% for the planet company that sources and distributes sustainable, traceable seafood to ensure the continued health of oceans, fisheries, and fishing communities.
  • UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science and Management: One of the great Smackdown masters, the Bren Team took on Asian fusion with their Vietnamese Bhan Mi Grilled Cheese. The Bren School is a graduate program focused on research, teaching, and community service related to solving environmental problems.
  • Santa Barbara Fire Department: Never one to shy from the heat, local firemen Phil and Billy were serving up heaping samples of their Goudalicious Grilled Cheese (the key: LOTS of cheese). The SBFD has operated continuously since 1881 and keeps 123,000 Santa Barbarians safe. Thanks guys!
  • Ontraport: We were a little intimidated when we heard the Ontraport Team had a Ringer – Lee Abbott who’s currently competing on Food Network’s All Star Academy! Lee and Brendan certainly lived up to the hype with their smoky Grilled Cheesy Beer Pub – they were infusing mushrooms with beer on site! Ontraport supports entrepreneurs in delivering their value to the world by removing the burden of technology and automating their business.
  • Sonos: New kids on the block Sonos came prepared with a slow-cooker full of comfort food. 1 part cheese, three parts sloppy joe, smashed between two thick slices of Texas Toast, lathered in butter, grilled to perfection. Sounds like our new favorite slow jam. Based in Santa Barbara, Sonos is a leading brand in premier audio technology (trust us – we’ve got Sonos speakers bumpin’ every day).

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With the bar set high, our second heat had to whip up something truly mouthwatering to change the judges’ minds. Hailing from the far reaches of the globe with only the most refined palates, our judges came to the Smackdown prepared for greatness. Back-to-back Smackdown winner’s Nina & Ian from Toad&Co cast the first two votes, followed by First Smackdown winners Kathryn and Michael from local cheese emporium C’est Cheese. Cooking up tomato soup for the event AND doubling down as a judge, Anthony from the Organic Soup Kitchen was born to judge the GCSD. Rounding out our judges were 3-time Smackdown participants Eric & David from LoaTree, an environmental lifestyle company that profiles changemakers, builds community and inspires action through unique storytelling and marketing. With such sophistication salivating over every sammy, the stakes were high for the second crop of contenders…

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  • Toad Team #1: Our materials manager Deborah and her beau Toby threw their very stylish hats into the ring for the first time with their “Sunnier Side of Grilled Cheese”. What was so sunny? Sunny side up eggs! And in case you couldn’t wait for breakfast for dinner, a pink box of bribes Danish pastries dared you to take just one more bite…
  • UGG: Shoe designers Sara & Sam rocked green Ugg slippers and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” shirts while cooking The Filthy Lephrechaun. Does it get any better than whiskey and corned beef? It does when it’s in grilled cheese form.
  • Santa Barbara Symphony: A regular attendee and first time competitor to the GCSD, the brother and sister duo representing the SB Symphony took us to the rolling hills of Northern Italy with their Tuscan inspired Eat, Cheese, Love. The Santa Barbara Symphony was founded in 1953 on the belief that a special city deserves a special orchestra.
  • Patagonia: We managed to pull some Patagonia folks off the trail and outta the surf for a few hours to whip up a killer grilled cheese. Forgoing a griddle altogether, Team Patagonia sautéed a mish mash of cheeses on the camp stove and stuffed the concoction into a hollowed out baguette to make the “It’s Better After Midnight” Grilled Cheese.
  • Toad Team #2: The dynamic duo in the office and in the kitchen, our Toad&Co women’s designers Guin and Sarah put their home-grown know-how to the test: Proud Minnesotan Guin made her own beer cheese while Santa Cruz raised Sarah pickled bread & butter pickles from scratch. The result? The pretzel-bun beer cheese grilled cheese served with a side of popcorn and brown ale, aptly named Das Bier Belly.

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It was a knock-down, cheese-out fight. The judges toiled while the crowd sampled the best of the best. Local brewers Telegraph Brewing Company kept our whistles whet with their finest lager and the Organic Soup Kitchen made sure we always had piping hot soup to accompany our sammies. After two heats, the carnage finally abated and from the ashes of the Grilled Cheese smackdown rose the victor: Das Bier Belly, from Toad&Co’s Design Team! Honors were given for the “People’s Choice” and “Make America Grate Again” Awards, and the “Fish Outta Water” Award went to a fitting choice. For the winning grilled cheese recipes, click here. Thanks again to all teams who participated and keeping good company with us! We’ll see you next year for the 5th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown!

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Stargazing 101

There’s more to the night sky than meets the eye. A lot more. On any given night you can see a thousand stars, five of the eight planets, 88 constellations, the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies – all with the naked eye. Here are some facts and tips for optimal stargazing:

Clear and dark skies are good: Cold, windy, cloudless, moonless nights are prime time to check out the stars. Low humidity is also crucial to seeing those tiny details (like Saturn’s rings) through a telescope.

Look low for planets: Look for planets no higher than 30 degrees above the horizon (hold your fist at arm’s length; three fists up from the horizon is about 30°). Venus comes out just after sunset and before dawn, while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are visible later at night. You’ll know it’s a planet because they don’t twinkle – that’s what stars do!

Stars twinkle, planets don’t: Stars sparkle because of helium and hydrogen gas within the star; when the gas burns out, so does the star.

Find the “bright star”: The North Star isn’t actually the brightest star in the sky, Sirius is. The brighter the star (or planet), the lower the number in magnitude. For example, Sirius is -1.44 in magnitude while the moon is a whopping -26.

Find the North Star: If you stood at the North Pole, the North Star (or Polaris) would be directly overhead all night long. But the further south you move, the more it rotates due to the degree of earth’s tilt. If you’re in the northern hemisphere you can always find the North Star. The brightest star at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle is the North Star. Can’t see the Little Dipper? Draw an imaginary line straight through the two stars of the Big Dipper’s edge and toward the Little Dipper. The line will point to the North Star.

Know some galaxy facts: Our solar system is just one of thousands in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is one of thousands in the universe. Galaxies are made up of billions of stars and solar systems all bound to each other by the same gravitational pull. So galaxies can come in all shapes and sizes. The Milky Way galaxy is discus and spiral shaped, with Earth located deep within one of the arms of the Milky Way. That’s why when you look up, the Milky Way looks like a streak through the sky – we’re seeing it from the side!

Look for seasonal constellations: Look for Orion’s Belt in Winter, the Big Dipper in Spring, Sagittarius in the Summer and the Andromeda Galaxy in the Fall. Look up any night of the year and you’ll surly see low-orbit, man-mad satellites following a curved path.

Remember, the night sky is always changing: Depending on the seasons and which hemisphere you’re in, you’ll see different constellations. But one day your favorite constellation could be gone… The Milky Way is constantly losing stars and producing new ones – about seven new stars per year! With an estimated 2 billion stars and more than half of them older than our 4.5 billion-year-old sun, the Milky Way is considered a young galaxy. Makes you feel like a kid again, don’t it?

For more facts and charts, we like these tools:
stardate.org for everything about constellations
cleardarksky.com for stargazing forecasts
Sky Guide app to identify celestial objects

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Our First Time in Great Basin National Park

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When was the last time you did something for the first time? The last time you experienced something that made you see things a little differently? The last time you stood in a new place and felt an overwhelming sense of awe? That’s the feeling we set out to find. We grabbed some friends, packed up our bags and set out for Great Basin National Park – one of the least visited parks in the Lower 48 with some of the oldest trees and the darkest skies.

We left Salt Lake City after work on Friday (later than planned, of course), headed southwest toward the Nevada/Utah border. Joel was driving Rita Jean, a semi-trusty ’86 Westfalia vanagon, with Brandon riding shotgun and Crystal and Hannah in the back. Van Morrison was also along for the ride.

240 miles later, we rolled into Wheeler Peak campground around 10pm, hungry but happy. We paid the fee and went to start up the van and snapped off the gear shaft right then and there. After 4 hours of climbing 10,000 ft, Rita Jean had had enough. We tinkered for an hour then finally pushed Rita to an open site and whipped up some 11pm campside tacos. We all agreed they were the best tacos we’d ever had.

The closest “big” town to Great Basin National Park is Ely, Nevada – 70 miles north of the park. Deny and Trudy from Ely showed up the next morning with a flat bed truck to haul Rita back to Ely for fixing over the weekend. Carless but prepared with a cooler full of bacon and bourbon, we got our day started.

We spent the next two days exploring Wheeler Peak. With a height of 13, 065 ft, the summit is covered with snow most of the year – an ideal climate for the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, an ancient pine species that’s been thriving for thousands of years (yes, thousands). These pines are truly mind blowing. Huge, car-sized trunks give way to twisty bark, looking like a lightning bolt that’s been carved from wood. It’s gnarled and split as sections of the tree die off and peel over the centuries. But these mangled trees are alive and kicking, sometimes with only a narrow strip of living tissue connecting the roots to a handful of branches. And those needles that are sprouting out? Those same needles live for an average of 45 years. The oldest tree in the Western Hemisphere is a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, still going strong at 5,062 years old. Those are some deep roots.

Along with ancient pines, we’d always heard about Great Basin’s killer stargazing. They say “Half the Park is After Dark”, and now we know why. Low humidity, minimal light pollution and high elevation give Great Basin the edge when it comes to stargazing. Combine that with Earth’s location deep within the spiral arms of the Milky Way and you’ve got a primo view from the inside looking out. Thousands of stars, five of the eight planets, 88 summer constellations, the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies – all with the naked eye. With binoculars we could easily see Saturn’s rings. Yes, Saturn.

On Monday morning Denny and Trudy picked us up and hauled us to Ely, Nevada. We reunited with a souped-up Rita Jean and hit the road back to Salt Lake City, taking the Northeast route via US-93. We took our sweet time, picnicking at a neat rest stop somewhere outside of Ely. Just across the Utah border, we took a detour off the I-80 to spend an hour cooling off at the Salt Spring Management Water Area , a marshland with natural salt springs and watering holes. Two hours and one roadside diner later, we made it back to SLC – full of memories and ready for our next first experience.

To plan your own trip to Great Basin National Park, visit www.nps.gov/grba

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Easy Holiday Recipe

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Every holiday we roll up our sleeves, preheat the oven and get down to business. With full houses and empty glasses, we spend much deserved time with our loved ones and whip up our favorite things to share. So here’s our recipe for a perfect holiday:

Ingredients 
60 Minutes of volunteering (or more!)
52 Cards
24 Hours without the internet
12 Pack of your favorite local beer
10 year aged bourbon – take a sip, splash a sip
8 Tracks of The Boss (or whatever keeps the kitchen crew grooving)
4 Shotted-shotski (learn how to make one here)
Pair of stretchy pants
1 football
A liberal sprinkling of good company

1. Prep ingredients the night before.
2. Morning of, spend 60 minutes volunteering.
3. Preheat oven to 375, turn on 8 tracks.
4. Mix remaining ingredients, stirring occasionally.
5. Top with good company and share!

Backyard Collective 2015

It’s springtime, which means it’s Spring-cleaning-time, which means the annual Backyard Collective! The Backyard Collective is the day we close our doors and clean up the public lands in our own backyard with other like-minded companies who support the Conservation Alliance. In it’s 6th year, the BYC partnered with Ventura Hillsides Conservancy for the third time to continue work on the Ventura River Restoration Project.

It was another hard working day, joining forces with local volunteers from Patagonia, Deckers, Elemental Herbs & REI. We got our hands dirty, garnered a few scrapes, removed trash, and spent the better half of a day eradicating the invasive plant species, Arundo Donax, from the Ventura River habitat.

Just a stone’s throw away in our backyard, the Ventura River supplies Ventura County, CA with much of it’s drinking water and much of it flows directly to the ocean. It’s a pivotal habitat to the vitality of Ventura County and especially important during this severe drought. Through the Conservation Alliance and other social and environmental “imunipacts”, the Ventura Hillside Conservancy  has received over $1 million in grants to keep the river habitat clean and thriving. And when paired with a little bit of elbow grease, those efforts go a long way. Since phase 1 of this project, volunteers  have chopped 7 acres of Arundo, removed 3 tons of trash and fostered regrowth of native species.

Be sure to check out the great things the Conservation Alliance is doing nation-wide and learn more about the amazing regional work Ventura Hillside Conservancy is doing too!

 

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Good Vibes with Reverend Tall Tree

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Good luck not tappin’ your foot and bobbin’ your head the moment you hear the good vibes of Reverend Tall Tree. Born out of late night jam seshes in a small saloon in East Los Angeles, Reverend Tall Tree serves up a piping hot helping of smoky rhythm and blues with a swingin’ beat and healthy dose of rocking chair harmonica. It’s a sound that begs to be listened to in the presence of good company and front man Chris Pierce knows just how to set the tone.

Chris is an old friend of the Toads. With a voice like hot buttered rum and a disposition like Southern sweet tea, we knew we liked Chris from day one. We met him back in the early 2000’s on the beach in Venice, CA when we were shooting our first brand video – a mutual friend brought him along to provide some background beach jams and he ended up scoring our theme song, “Everyday is an Adventure” in 15 minutes. He’s represented Toad at various musics festivals and played over the years at the Lizard Lounge in Portland, bringing the spirit of Toad to the stage. He’s hit the road as an accomplished solo act, toured with big names in the biz, and crooned his way through a TedxTalk on the healing power of music. In a nutshell, Chris is one cool dude.

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Reverend Tall Tree is Chris’ latest creative endeavor, and naturally we can’t get enough of it.  In early 2013, Pierce wandered into the Sassafras Saloon, a new blues bar that opened just a few blocks from his house. Word on the street was the Sassafras was looking for a new house band to kick things off. So with a few old buddies, a dusty harmonica and a songbook of standards, Chris and the gang started performing as Reverend Tall Tree on Saturday nights. The rest, as they say, is history.

With Professor Lovejoy on the drums, Old Parker on guitar, Dr. Cooper on double bass and Pierce himself laying down the vocals and harmonica, Reverend Tall Tree’s self titled debut album is all about good company. “Music is a way to celebrate togetherness,” Pierce says, “a congregation, a connection. It lends itself to inclusion and adds to the overall rhythm.”

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And that’s obvious in both their live shows and their studio album. They recorded the LP in the gritty style of the old viynl greats like Bo Diddley and Sam Cooke – one take, no headphones, no individual mics, recorded live to 2” thick tape and mixed on the spot with a 1956 tape machine. Or as Pierce describes, “We let the vibe roll and we let the tape roll.”

When asked what kind of dish Reverend Tall Tree’s music would be, Pierce said, “A Reverend Tall Tree experience is like a pot luck – everyone brings something to share.” So shout, stomp, moan, shuffle, whoop and holler because Reverend Tall Tree is certainly bringin’ something to the table.

3rd Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown

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We’re generally a pretty laid back bunch, but we take our grilled cheese very seriously. It all started in 2011 as a modest celebration for National Grilled Cheese Month when a handful of Toads claimed they could make the best grilled cheese. The results were downright delicious!

With a fire in our bellies and a hunger for more (and let’s face it, any excuse for a party), we decided to kick it up a notch: We forged the Golden Spatula Award – the highest honor to be bestowed upon a gourmand – and invited local businesses and non–profits to show us what they were cookin’ with. Boy, did they bring the heat. From Mac n’ Cheese filled ciabattas, to waffle ironed Monte Cristos, to a sandwich who’s popularity was only eclipsed by some very scandalous aprons, we’ve seen some serious chops displayed at the GCSD over the years.

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And like a fine cheddar, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown is just getting better with age. This year’s 3rd Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown was the best yet: Our friends at The Organic Soup Kitchen set up a grilled cheese and tomato soup station, we whet our whistles with beer from our favorite local brewery, Telegraph Brewing Companyand we gathered around to watch 10 local teams throw down their gooiest, cheesiest, tastiest grilled cheeses in the battle for the coveted Golden Spatula.

Outside under the twinkle lights, friends popped from station to station sampling the award winning sammies, picking up tips and leaving high fives, while our team of esteemed judges had their hands (and mouths) full tasting creations from return competitors and a handful of rookies:

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For the third year in a row our friends at LoaTree came dressed to the nines and ready for a smackdow. LoaTree is a lifestyle company that profiles changemakers, builds community and inspires action through unique storytelling.
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Like most academics, the folks from UCSB’s Bren School have a scientific approach to the perfect grilled cheese. The Bren School is a graduate program focused on research, teaching, and community service related to solving environmental problems.
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Throwing their hat in the ring for the first time was the Direct Relief team who’s sammie, “Deliver a World of Gouda” was a crowd pleaser. Direct Relief is a medical aid organization that works to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty.
Rick and Kimberly, our trusty Dealer Services Manaager at Toad, went for Ricky's tried and true "Hot N'Sticky". The secret? mixing sriracha sauce INTO butter!
Rick and Kimberly, our trusty Dealer Services Manaager at Toad, went for Ricky’s tried and true “Hot N’Sticky”. The secret? mixing sriracha sauce INTO butter!
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C’est Cheese, our Year 1 champs came back to reclaim the crown with a killer breakfast grilled cheese. A family-run cheese shop and cafe in downtown Santa Barbara, these guys bring a whole new level of credibility to the Smackdown.
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They might be rookies to the GCSD, but the Deckers team made a veal grilled cheese that smacked of old school expertise! Deckers Outdoor Corporation designs, manufactures and markets innovative, function-oriented footwear developed for high-performance outdoor, sports and recreational activities.
Our neighbors, the Ontraport Team, had all the late night munchies in their "Dude, Where's My Grilled Cheese?" (Hot Cheetos, bacon, siracha, BBQ chips, gold fish crackers…). Ontraport supports entrepreneurs in delivering their value to the world by removing the burden of technology and automating their business.
Our neighbors, the Ontraport Team, had all the late night munchies in their “Dude, Where’s My Grilled Cheese?” (Hot Cheetos, bacon, siracha, BBQ chips, gold fish crackers…). Ontraport supports entrepreneurs in delivering their value to the world by removing the burden of technology and automating their business.
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The guys from Union Bank showed up with backup… Union Bank is dedicated to providing unparalleled service to customers, colleagues and communities. Grilled cheese included upon request.
Ian and Nina go together like bread and butter. Competing for Toad for the last three years, these two headed into Year 3 as the reigning champs.
Ian and Nina go together like bread and butter. Competing for Toad for the last three years, these two headed into Year 3 as the reigning champs!
Isabel and Daisy, the Toad copy writer, rounded out the Toad teams. Their Indian inspired "Dharcheesling" enlightened our tastebuds.
Isabel and Daisy, the Toad copy writer, rounded out the Toad teams. Their Indian inspired “Dharcheesling” enlightened our tastebuds.

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All said, it was a battle of epic proportions of cheese, pitting mozzarella vs. Munster, goat vs. Gouda, provolone vs. parmesan. Teams wowed with home grown veggies and perfectly golden crust, and we saw the most multicultural selection of grilled cheeses yet (Indian grilled cheese, anyone?). The competition was fierce but in the end there could only be one winner… reigning champs, Ian and Nina’s appropriately named El Jefe Chees-urito!  Let’s see if they’ll make it a three-peat at the 4th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown, or will a new victor be crowned?

Thanks to all the participants, judges, and spectators who made this year’s Smackdown such a success – we can’t wait for next year! In the meantime, here are a few recipes to tide you over…

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C’est Cheese’s Breakfast Grilled Cheese – The “Fancy Pants Award” 
Makes 1 sandwich:
1 grilled ancho chile cut in strips
Thin sliced ham
Aged white cheddar
Mild cheddar
2 slices sourdough bread
1 egg
Arugula
Butter

1. Butter the outside and inside of the bread. On the inside of one slice, layer ham and ancho chile strips (the more the spicier!)
2. Add one layer of mild cheddar then a layer of aged white cheddar. Top with other slice of bread and grill until cheese is melted. Meanwhile, poach an egg in boiling water.
3. Top perfectly grilled sandwich with a small handful of arugula and place poached egg in a nest of arugula. Yum!

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Ian & Nina’s El Jefe Chees-urito – The “Two Time Champ” Award 
Makes 5 sandwiches:
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 lb marinated Carne asada, cooked
1 cup of Dubliner cheese, shredded
1 cup of Irish cheddar
1 cup of jalapeño jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 stick of butter, softened
1/4 carmelized onions
1 can red enchilada sauce
1/4 cup cotija cheese, crumbled
sliced radishes soaked in an ice bath
sourdough bread, sliced
1 jar pickled carrots*
2 cups avocado whip**
1 bag cantina style tortilla chips
Limes cut in quarters

*To make Pickled Carrots: 5 carrots – peeled and sliced diagonally, 1.5 cups rice wine vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, and a pinch of ginger, cumin, garlic powder and salt. Mix in a bowl, cover and let sit overnight.
** To make Avocado Whip: 3 avocados, 3 cloves of garlic and a pinch of salt. Toss into a food processor and mix until it’s light and airy.

1. Mix butter, caramelized onions, parmesan and chopped garlic. Slather the butter mixture on the outside of the sourdough bread slices.
2. On the bottom slice stack a handful of the dubliner, the cheddar and the jack. Next a layer of the Carne asada,then another handful of all three cheeses on top of that and top with about 5 crispy chips. Add the top slice of bread with the buttered side up.
3. Stick the sandwich in the back of a panini press and leave for about 6 minutes or until the bread is nice and crispy without being burned.
4. Let cool for two minutes and then cut in half diagonally. Drizzle with red enchilada sauce and top with cotija cheese. Serve with extra chips, avacado whip, pickled carrots, radishes and a lime wedge. Muy bien!

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Direct Relief’s Deliver a World of Gouda – The “Best Use of Branding Award”
Makes 4 sandwiches:
4 brioche rolls
1 cup cilantro butter**
1 cup BBQ Sauce (your favorite or homemade)
Smoked gouda cheese, sliced
2 cups BBQ Pulled Pork, cooked
1 jar Hooper’s Chili-Style Pickles
4 Direct Relief mozzeralla logos**
4 small square slices of Extra Sharp Cheddar
4 small square slices of Sharp Cheddar
4 small square slices of Gouda

*To make cilantro butter, combine in a food processor: 1 stick softened unsalted butter, 6 cloves chopped garlic, 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, 2 tbsp fresh lime juice, a pinch of salt and pepper.
**On a wide, thin slice of mozzarella, cut out the Direct Relief caduceus logo with a sharp knife (just be careful!)

1. Slice brioche rolls in half and coat the whole thing with cilantro butter.
2. Liberally Lather the bottom piece with BBQ sauce, then a layer of sliced gouda, then a handful of pulled pork, then a layer of sliced pickles, then another layer of gouda, and top with other half of the bun. Press in griddle until cheese is melted.
3. On the top of each grilled cheese, make the Direct Relief logo: A square of extra sharp cheddar in the top left, a square of sharp cheddar in the top right, a square of gouda in the bottom right, a square of sharp cheddar in the bottom left, and lay the mozzarella caduceus right in the middle. Hover the grill over the sandwich to broil the cheese until it melts!

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Daisy & Isabel’s The Darcheesling – The “New Age Award” 
Makes 2 sandwiches:
Fresh mozzarella log, sliced into 1/4″ thick rounds
2 cups spinach
1 sweet onion, sliced
4 slices of naan bread
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 jar masala sauce
1 jar mango chutney
1 jar spicy mint sauce*

To make spicy mint sauce, place in a food processor: 2 handfuls of mint, 2 handfuls of cilantro, juice from 2 limes, 3 serrano peppers, a pinch of salt for taste, and if it seems thick add a splash of water to loosen it up.

1. Mix the melted bunter and chopped garlic and spread on both sides of two pieces of naan bread.
2. In a skillet, saute onions and spinach with a splash of masala sauce.
3. on the inside of one naan, spread a layer of spicy mint sauce, then layer all the sautéed veggies. Top with a layer of mozzarella.
4. On the inside of the other naan spread a liberal amount of mango chutney. Place on top of the mozzarella and panini press until naan is crispy.
5. Warm up the masala sauce and pour into a ramekin. Pour remaining mango chutney and masala into ramekins. Cut sandwich in half and serve with the three dipping sauces.