Saturday, August 20, 2016

Get Carded: A Milestone Birthday

Hello! Our daughter had her birthday earlier this summer, and the milestone one of turning 21 at that. But with her out-of-state summer job, our family vacation, and several days of leadership training she needed to do for her upcoming school year job, we didn't get around to celebrating her birthday until yesterday. 

Of course, I'd made a greeting card for the occasion. I often make whimsical cards for her and my husband, but I crafted a more sedate card this time:


Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • black/gold star patterned art paper
  • pink-toned paint chip
  • dress, purse, high heel shoes: scrapbook embellishment set; purchased at sample sale several years ago for a fraction of what this set would have cost at retail
  • "happy birthday" stamped in black ink
A couple of close-ups:






 


A very nice card, if I say so myself! 

I do enjoy designing whimsical cards for my family, but there's times when a pretty card is fine too. This was one of those times, I felt.

Happy (delayed) Birthday to a great girl!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fly/Drive Vacation 2016: #2

Hello! In today's post, I'll recount the 2nd half of our recent summer vacation. (Part 1 was covered in my preceding post). 

Day 5: We were only traveling from Omaha, NE to West Des Moines, IA today, so we lingered in our hotel room long enough to grab an early lunch at Los Portales a couple of miles away. Good tacos and great salsas! (I do enjoy a good, home-style salsa).

Not only did this restaurant get good reviews on Yelp, but it was on the way to Lauritzen Gardens. We like to visit botanical gardens (our daughter, the museum frowner, even likes them) and the 100-acre Lauritzen Gardens didn't disappoint. 

There was a  lot to see, but I managed only a couple of pictures:

Chenille plants inside the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory.

A train on the move in the Model Railroad Garden. I'm a sucker for small-scale installations such as this. I could have watched those trains going around and around the layout all day.

I didn't, of course - I also viewed the Children's Garden, the Garden of Memories, the Herb Garden, the English Perennial Border, and more. If you like botanical gardens, then Laurizten Gardens is a can't-miss if you visit Omaha. 

Next to the Gardens' parking lot is a set of steep stairs that lead up to Kenefick Park. At the top of the steps are two locomotives  and many signs that explain the history of Union Pacific Railroad. There's also a great view of the Missouri River, with the I-80 bridge spanning it. And on that bridge was the state line sign for Iowa, our next stop on the trip. 

Stopped in West Des Moines; we were back to our usual hotel-in-a-strip plaza location. As expected, my husband, the craft beer lover, championed dinner at Draught 50. Since it was a scant block away (if even that) from our hotel, I acquiesced. Wasn't expecting much from the menu, but my Philly Steak flatbread sandwich was better than anticipated, and we had a very friendly waitress too.

There was plenty of shopping in the area, although some stores had already closed for the day (it was Sunday evening). We did find a Trader Joe's, a TJ Maxx and an Orange Leaf fro-yo place open, and purchases were made at each stop.

Day 6: Another day of sightseeing ahead of us! After several previous trips through Iowa, I finally convinced my husband to stop in Pella, settled by the Dutch in 1847. He had never wanted to go there because we also live in a town settled by that same ethnic group, the same year. But I was curious to see how Dutch-American life is interpreted by the folks in Pella. 

The downtown was very quaint, but as we had other stops to make, we ate lunch at the Windmill Cafe (solid diner-style meals) there and  then just looked around a bit. We didn't do the town justice at all, but at least I could say at last I got to go there! 

A few pics:

 

This looks much like DeZwaan, the windmill on Windmill Island in Holland, MI. There's a difference though: Pella's Vermeer windmill is a reproduction, whereas ours is an actual Dutch windmill, dismantled over there, then shipped and put back together here. Both windmills are working grain mills; one can buy bags of flour produced from them. 

I spied Vermeer's milled flour for sale at the nearby visitor's center where, funnily enough, the woman we talked to had the same opinion about visiting Holland, MI as my husband had about touring Pella: like him, she didn't feel the need to visit another Dutch-oriented town. LOL.

One advantage Pella has over Holland - there are two bakeries downtown; in fact, they are on the same block. One of them, Jaarsma Bakery, is very well-known, and had the crowds to prove it. So I stopped into the other one:

Its offerings weren't as extensive as at Jaarsma, but they had Dutch letters for sale too, so I bought a small one. It was delicious! In case you don't know what they are, Dutch letters are rich pastries with an almond filling. 

Examples of architecture in downtown Pella.

I would have been happy to spend more time in Pella, but my husband wanted to check out Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. I wasn't quite sure why, but he's a college professor and thus likes to see what other campuses look like. So we drove up there and walked around a bit. It's a pretty campus and Grinnell is highly regarded for its liberal arts curriculum. 

The rest of the town didn't look like much, but at least I was rewarded with a purchase at the used book sale room in the town's public library: Richard J. Perry's The Good Home Cookbook. This is the sort of cookbook I enjoy: good old-fashioned cooking, with the history of many of the recipes included. But instead of the vague directions typical with older recipes, more detailed steps are included. I skimmed through it once we got back home and was happy I'd gotten it. 

Speaking of food, we drove on to Iowa City and ate at Augusta, near the edge of downtown. We've eaten at Augusta several times already, but at its former location in the village of Oxford. The owners made the move to Iowa City earlier this year, as it had become a struggle to thrive in Oxford's off-the-beaten-track location.
 
I missed the charm of the Oxford restaurant decor: mismatched chairs, tables, place settings. Even the salt and pepper shaker sets and flower vases were different from one table to the next. In the Iowa City location, everything matches. But the menu was the same Iowa/New Orleans blend(the owners once lived in the latter city). 

I stuck to the Iowa side and got a pork tenderloin sandwich. It is a huge thing, with the breaded meat sticking way out all around the sandwich bun. I only ate half of it and saved the rest for breakfast the next day. My husband went New Orleans with a shrimp po-boy sandwich, and our daughter ordered the grilled chicken club. The food was just as good as always and I highly recommend Augusta. 

College towns can be sleepy in the summer, but downtown Iowa City was hopping! Since it was after dinnertime on a Monday night, a few businesses were closing, but we had time to browse in Akar Architecture and Design. This is an artsy-style gift shop. I confess, I've yet to buy anything here in a couple of visits, but that doesn't mean I haven't been sorely tempted. In fact, I visited Akar this time to specifically buy something I'd seen there during my last visit. Alas, they no longer carried the item, so I couldn't buy it. 

Our last stop of the day was our hotel in Cedar Rapids. We've yet to do anything in this town other than stay at a hotel; this is due to always spending time in the Iowa City area. But sometime I'd love the visit the National Czech and Slovak Museum there. My husband's ethnic background is 1/4 Czech and 3/4 Slovak, so it'd be interesting to learn more about his heritage. 

Day 7: A return trip to Galena, IL, which we had visited twice last year. Both times we had to deal with very congested Saturday crowds. Galena is an old town with narrow streets and even narrower sidewalks, so navigating in car and on foot was challenging. Today's excursion was on a Tuesday, so we were hoping for lesser crowds.

And that we had - but didn't realize that many of the restaurants are either only open for dinner on Tuesdays, or aren't open at all. We understand that restauranteurs need time off after busy weekends, but had thought Monday would be the day off. One shop owner told us restaurants in one end of town take Monday off, while Tuesdays are for restaurants on the other end of the town to be closed. That may be true, but it seemed like we saw more closed than open places for lunch at both ends of town. But eventually we found the open Victory Cafe and ate there - another solid, diner-style place. 

We didn't have much time to shop in Galena since my husband wanted to get to our hotel in the Chicago area before rush hour hit. This was too bad, since the lack of congestion meant it was much easier to see what was in the stores. (some of the most popular stores get so crowded on peak tourism days, you can barely get in them). I did buy some fun craft supplies at Ink And Stamp With Sue - and had a hard time limiting myself to what I bought! It's a cool place if you're into rubber stamping, scrap booking and many other paper-related creative pursuits. 

Our final night on vacation was spent at a hotel in Hoffman Estates. From there, we headed over to The Lucky Monk for dinner. (my husband always seem to find a local brewpub every place we stay). Although noisy with after-work get-togethers, I liked the artwork that represented the beers made there, and the menu was decent. I got the mini taco plate, which meant I had room to split a very decadent brownie sundae with our daughter. Hey, it's vacation after all!

Of course, it was back to reality the next day when we returned home: dirty laundry to deal with, mail to go through, garden to water (it hadn't rained here while we were out of town), and a very upset cat who didn't appreciate our absence. But we'd had a very good time, and I hope you had a good time "traveling" with us!










Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fly/Drive Vacation 2016: #1

Hello! My family recently returned from a fly/drive summer vacation that took us to Denver and back. I'll summarize what we did and saw along the way. 

Day 1: We flew from the Gerald Ford International airport in Grand Rapids MI. Although this airport is close to where we live, this is the first time I'd flown from it. Usually we drive to Chicago for lower fares, but this time a non-stop flight to Denver had competitive pricing.

I'm a wimp when it comes to flying, but our flight was on time and had no turbulence. Can't ask for better than that! In a little over two hours we were on the ground in Denver. 

Unlike the Ford, Denver's airport was very crowded, so I had little chance to view the bizarre artwork there. Did see the mural in which a person wearing a gas mask is prominently featured. And as our shuttle bus was leaving the airport, I saw the large blue horse sculpture, eyes glowing red. I don't take stock in all the conspiracy theories that abound about the Denver airport (if you're not aware of these theories, you can search the Internet), but there's no denying that the murals and the horse statue look creepy. 

An online car rental booking gone wrong (Hertz' fault, not ours) led us around and around southeast Denver, but eventually things got resolved and we could relax in our hotel after dinner at a local Mexican joint, Las Caras. Very good salsas came with our taco orders.

Day 2: Why is it that my husband and daughter aren't affected by jet lag but I am? I woke up at 5 am, but that gave me time to look over some travel info for planning our day. Our daughter doesn't care for museums, which is what we might have done in Denver had she not been with us. 

Or we might have gone to Rocky Mountain National Park, but an early starting time is suggested due to the probability oafternoon thunderstorms. Since my husband and daughter were still slumbering, this excusion didn't look likely either.

But eventually we decided on nearby Boulder. As we approached that city we could see the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park looming behind it. That's as close as we got to the mountains this time, but it was still fun viewing them from a distance. 

We began our visit with lunch at Falafel King, located in the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall. After that, we ducked in and out of the many shops in this mall. Didn't buy anything, but greatly enjoyed window shopping. There were street performers too. 

Above, a street performer is playing and singing a Bob Dylan song while hanging upside down. Quite a feat!


Storefronts along the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall.


Statue in the pedestrian mall. 

Since we didn't get a chance to do any mountain trail hiking, we decided to walk a portion of a trail along Boulder Creek, also in town. This creek is prone to flooding (due to those aforementioned mountain thunderstorms), but no such issues today. We saw a number of people enjoying a pleasant summer day strolling along the path or tubing on the creek. 

Boulder seemed to be a cool, laid-back city with a funky vibe. I'd definitely return for a visit! 

Dinner was at Pho 63, back in Denver near our hotel. Nothing spectacular, but we'd done a fair amount of walking this day and so wanted a low-key meal. Later on, chatted with a Canadian couple in the hotel hot tub; interesting to hear their perspective on the current state of the US political scene!

Day 3: Eastward ho! Time to start heading back home, with the destination of North Platte, Nebraska for the night. I drove most of this stretch and let me tell you, driving through northeastern Colorado is certainly no Rocky Mountain high! The only thing I saw of interest was a prairie dog running across the road shortly after we left the greater Denver area. It was the first time I'd ever seen a prairie dog outside of a zoo, so I enjoyed that. 

But otherwise, driving from Denver to North Platte along the interstates is very boring, but it can't be helped. Got to get from Point A to Point B somehow! We were hoping for interesting things to see around North Platte, as it's a "big city" for its region, but the downtown looked rather dead. I should add that it was after dinner when we drove through it, so that likely didn't help. 

The Fort Cody Trading Post attraction was next to our hotel, but we didn't go there. It might have been worth it, but instead we headed to Whiskey Creek restaurant, also next to our lodging. This is a small chain with steakhouse-type foods. Nothing fancy, but the food was solid (I had a chicken tenders dinner) and we had a friendly waitress.

(Lunch, btw, was an early one in Denver at a Qdoba. The reason for stopping there was that it was close to a See's candy store. See's is always worth a visit in our book!)

Besides that pleasant dinner, North Platte redeemed itself by having a decent Goodwill store. Our daughter and I bought some tops, and I also bought a local community cookbook and a cool vintage interior decorating book that will be great fun to look through. "Souvenir" shopping at its cheapest and best! (IMO anyway.)

Day 4: The eastern third of Nebraska is much more settled than the rest of the state. Lunched at a Subway in Kearney, drove past Lincoln, the state capitol, then reached our destination, a Homewood Inn at the edge of downtown Omaha. We usually stay at hotels on the edges of big cities, or in the suburbs of those cities, so downtown lodging was a novelty for us. The location worked in our favor, as the Hot Shops Art Center was just a stone's throw away. 

This center is a collection of studios and gallery spaces housed in an old warehouse-type building. According to the Omaha Visitors Guide, the "hot shops" refer to glassblowing, pottery, bronze casting and blacksmithing, but we also saw examples of jewelry making, quilting, photography, sculptures and more. I took some photos:

I miss our cat while we're on vacation, so I took a pic of this painting. 


An art quilt. 




Small sculptures, based on the painted examples near their feet. 


I took a close-up of this one, which was titled "Cyborge Catwoman", because of the stories our daughter wrote and illustrated when she was younger. Her tales were based on our cat's imaginary kingdom - and her accompanying drawings of our cat looked very much like this!

Do you have a bunch of doodads in a junk drawer and old plastic toys from your kids? Then you can make this:


A close-up:

I didn't study the particulars of the assembly, but it looks like some sort of mounting board, an adhesive and metallic spray paint were used. 


This sign was outside a studio. Since the artist wasn't around, I deleted her name and contact info from the sign, but kept the reason for taking a photo of it: the word "recyclopath". Don't know if that's a made-up word the artist coined, but I like the sound of it!


A series of doggie portraits, based on pet photos people had submitted to the artist. If I remember correctly, this is an ongoing series to be completed over the course of this summer.

Most of the studios were empty, so we had to content ourselves with viewing the works posted on the walls outside these workspaces. This surprised me, as it was a Saturday. I'd assumed that the artists would have workweek jobs elsewhere and would be in their studios at night or on the weekends. But one artist who was in her studio said that for many of the artists there, their studio work is their fulltime gig. So hats off to Omaha for supporting the artists of the Hot Shops Art Center!

Another open studio:

I liked the colors in this quilt. The artist was busily sewing away on more patches, but was happy to chat. She's recovering from hand surgery, so has to use her non-dominant arm for cutting and sewing - hence, the simple piecing shown above. She had more complicated, pre-surgery works on display as well, but I admired her for perservering in spite of her cast!

After our tour of the Hot Shops Art Center, we headed over to a nearby restaurant, Blatt Beer and Table, for dinner. The place was hopping with aging baby boomers enjoying food and drink in advance of the Journey/Doobie Brothers concert at Century Link Center, a block away. It was amusing when a concert vendor strolled through the eatery, literally pulling t-shirts from underneath his shorts to sell to willing concert goers. 

(Eventually he came over to me but I told him no thanks, I'll stick to my memories of the Journey concert I attended in 1978.)

Because of the concert crowd, a much smaller menu than usual was on offer that night. I was fine with the Southern-style chicken sandwich I'd ordered. A harried waitstaff meant we had to wait awhile for both food and bill, but we weren't in a hurry and understood the delays. 

Since it was a pleasant evening, we strolled over to the Old Market  commercial district, which was busy with shoppers and diners alike. Easy to see why - restored vintage buildings, brick streets and lots of places to while away a few hours and more than a few bucks. We did make a couple of stops in this part of town:


Above, a chocolate malt from Ted & Wally's ice cream shop. As the sign on the napkin holder shows, it recently was awarded "best ice cream" in a local reader's choice survey. Prices are a little high, but we all enjoyed our ice cream treats very much. This store is known for its unusual flavors, but we stuck to traditional flavors like Dutch chocolate, mint chip and vanilla bean. Only a few flavors are offered at a time anyway, since this shop makes small batches  the old-fashioned way: rock salt and ice are used to harden their ice cream bases. 

Kitty-corner from Ted & Wally's are these businesses:


Fairmount Antiques & Mercantile/Hollywood Candy. Unfortunately, I only had a little time to browse around this place, which was a shame because it looked like a lot of fun. The Hollywood Candy section had tons of candies, including a big by-the-pound area. That "by-the-pound" price was rather high, but it would have been fun to fill a bag with some of the retro candies. There's a small restaurant near one end of the candy area too. This part of the building was crawling with people, mostly families with small children. 

Beyond the edibles was the antiques section. Would have loved to explore it; the couple of booths I wandered in seemed to have reasonable prices. I definitely think this building would be worth a return visit!

But speaking of return, it was time to return to our hotel; we'd been gone from it over four hours by this point. Think we walked close to six miles all told during that time. And in all that time and distance, we did not see an single panhandler on the streets, which is unusual for cities these days. 

In my next post I'll recap the rest of our trip. 

 



 

   

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Made It: ICAD 2016

Hello! As anticipated in this post, I participated in ICAD (Index Card A Day)during June and July. Since these two months are now over, it's now time to show off some of my efforts. 

Small-scale projects like ICAD are ideal for exploring new techniques and new art supplies, but on time-crunched days I stuck to familiar techniques and supplies. Either way, it's all good! 

Created the day after my dad died: a photocopy of a WWII pic of him and a military plane; both accented with gold glitter glue. The photocopy was mounted on an index card stamped with a swirly black ink design.

Thrift store stencils that pay homage to my love of both dogs and cats. The stencils were used to cut out words and shapes from vintage cookbook pages to which I'd added paint. 

I love to read as well, so affixed a poem about reading (vintage ephemera found in a thrift store book I'd purchased)onto an index card. "READ" was made with stamps from a vintage printing set, but the hand image was created from a newer stamp. 

Goofy collage: vintage paper, rubber-stamped eye image, vintage matchbook and more. 

Not as goofy a collage:

Bird shape cut from scrapbook paper, affixed to paint-patterned vintage cookbook page. The saying reads: "More important than length of life is how we spend each day." These words of wisdom were cut from a vintage cookbook. Doesn't everyone get words of wisdom from a cookbook?

And from Albert Einstein: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." 

Above, an image of a man was painted over, then cut out and glued onto a background cut from an old chart. This chart had been used to protect the surface of my studio work table from stray marks of paint, rubber stamp ink and other art supplies. Over time, enough drips, splatters and the like turned the chart into an art paper of sorts. 

"The Power To Change Lives" was cut from a magazine. And what has such power? The answer is the rubber-stamped image next to the man image: a heart with the word "love" within it. 

One last ICAD effort shown off:

For this one, I started with an index card stamped with a design in blue ink. I glued on an old Kenya Airways boarding pass, then added the words "In flight" and "flying" (both cut from vintage books). The boarding pass was another stuck-in-a-thrift-store-book find. I love such "forgotten bookmarks".

Obviously this is a small sampling from my ICAD works. Yes, I did a lot of collage, but I also drew, made lists, experimented with paints, painting tools, colored pencils and more. It was a lot of fun, and I was a little sorry when the two months were up. But now I have 61 new mini art projects to enjoy!


 




 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Eats: Raspberry Cobbler

Hello! As far as homemade summertime desserts go, it's hard to beat strawberry shortcake and ice cream. And while both are great, my vote for the best homemade summertime dessert goes to:




Raspberry Cobbler!

I'm not sure when my affection for this dessert began. Although my mom would make strawberry shortcake, I don't think she ever made raspberry cobbler. Since raspberries are expensive even in season, she likely thought it'd be a pricey treat to make enough to feed our family of 10. 

Nevertheless, when as an adult I saw raspberry cobbler on the dessert menu while dining in Akron, PA, I decided to order it. It was love at first bite! I wished I'd skipped the hamburger I'd just eaten and had gotten two servings of raspberry cobbler instead. 

This memorable meal took place back in the early 1990's, but it set me on a search ever since for a raspberry cobbler recipe that could compare to the restaurant one. And thanks to Marcia Adams' Cooking From Quilt Country, I think I've found a great homemade version. 

Raspberry Cobbler (adapted from Cooking From Quilt Country)

Raspberry Base:

4-5 cups raspberries (see note below)
1/2 cup white sugar (see note below)
1/2 cup brown sugar (see note below)
2 tablespoons flour (see note below)
1/2 stick butter, cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Dough:

1 1/2 cups flour (see note below)
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup milk, approximately
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

White sugar and nutmeg, for sprinkling on top of dough

Preheat oven to 350. Place raspberries in greased 1 1/2 quart casserole dish with medium-high sides. Add the sugars and flour; toss. Dot with butter; sprinkle with lemon juice and nutmeg. Bake for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the dough. Place the first four ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Cut in the butter. Combine milk and vanilla, and add to flour mixture. Stir with a fork until a stiff ball forms, then turn out onto a well-floured pastry cloth or board and roll out approximately 1/4" thick. Shape the dough to fit the dish you are using and transfer on top of warm fruit. Slash the middle of the dough, then sprinkle a bit of sugar and nutmeg on top. Return to oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the juices bubble up through the slit and the crust is lightly golden. Serve warm, preferably with cream (see note below). Yield: 6 servings. 

Notes: Adams calls for black raspberries, as she thinks they have a more pronounced flavor when baked. They're harder to find than red raspberries, though, so I've always used red when making this. No complaints from me!

The amount of sugars used for the raspberry base makes this dessert quite sweet. Raspberries can be rather tart, but I still like the cut back on the sugars a bit. 

My only complaint about this recipe is that the amount of flour specified didn't seem to thicken the raspberry juices enough. I decided to try a double amount of thickener this time, and used cornstarch instead of flour. This change worked well; no more runny filling!

As with most of my baking, I use 1/2 white wheat flour and 1/2 white flour for the dough. 

Although Adams suggests serving this dessert with cream, I've never done that. But when I've had vanilla ice cream around, I've sometimes used that instead. However, I find raspberry cobbler just fine on its own. 

Perhaps one reason why I like making raspberry cobbler is that my husband doesn't like it, and our daughter can take it or leave it. Thus, there's more for me! But really, I don't need six servings of the stuff all for me, so I cut the recipe in half and bake the cobbler in a small casserole dish. Three servings isn't nearly as piggish - even if I ever decided to eat two servings of it at once and call it a meal.

As in my mom's day, raspberries are still pricey, but this is one recipe that I'll gladly splurge on!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Thrifty Acres: My "New" Kitchen Toy

Hello! As someone who does a lot of food prep for meals, I'm always looking for ways to cut down on time in the kitchen, and this quest extends to dealing with fresh vegetables and fruits. Sure, I've got a food processor for dicing large amounts of carrots, celery and onions for big pots of soups, but that machine is too large to haul out for smaller prep tasks. 

I'd looked into buying a mandoline, a tool that's supposed to speedily slice, dice and julienne produce. I got confused reading over the many online options. Some looked cheap, some looked rather bulky, and some looked kind of scary. You don't mess around with a mandoline; the blades are very sharp. So I left the Internet and stuck with my paring knife. 

But then a couple of months ago I encountered this at a thrift store:

The Borner V-Slicer Plus, made in Germany. I took it out of the box and looked it over; the set seemed complete and looked unused. It was priced at $4.99, so I didn't have much to lose. The original price tag of $49.99 was still on the box. 

I was a little intimidated by my purchase at first - as I'd said, mandolines aren't to be messed with, and I had to familiarize myself with the directions and the various parts. But finally I made up my mind to practice with the darn thing and see how it went. 

And here's how it went:


The beginnings of a lunchtime salad. 

The V-Slicer Plus made quick work of radishes, red onions, cucumber and green pepper. It's far quicker than I am with my paring knife! And I love the uniformity of the slices too. Even if I felt liking laboring over a radish, I doubt I could cut such even, thin slices by hand.


Above, here's what the tool looks like - shown is the thin slice side of the slicing insert. If I'd flipped it over, I'd get thick slices. Not shown is the safety guard, which is used to hold the produce in place while using the V-Slicer Plus. Thus, one's hands stay free of those very sharp slicing blades.

There's also inserts for two julienne cuts, thick or thin. These are handy for stir fries. 

The instruction manual gives directions for dicing or chopping. Both tasks involve making cuts into the produce after placing it into the safety guard, then using one of the julienne inserts. I haven't done these tasks enough on the V-Slicer Plus to master them to my satisfaction, but that'll come with practice. 

Clean-up is easy - just a quick rinse in the sink, or a quick dunk in soapy water, then a rinse. 

Storage is easy too, as the whole thing stores in its own case:

It doesn't take up much room on my counter, as the unit measures about 15" x 5"w x 4"d. 

There appears to be newer versions of the V-Slicer Plus over at Amazon (perhaps mine had been stuck in someone's closet or cupboard for years). For one thing, the company is now called Swissmar Borner. S-B has several mandoline models for sale, but this one  seems to be closest to my model. 

In general, the Swissmar Borner mandolines have very good ratings over at Amazon, and I am satisfied with my mine as well.