The Best Revenge: My Top 10 Tools For Living Well in 2015

17 01 2015

Let’s get this out of the way right up front, shall we?  Anyone who says that “stuff doesn’t matter” is a liar and a fake.  Of course stuff matters!  I don’t mean matters as in I’d-pause-to-remove-my-Rolex-before-saving-a-drowning-child matters; that kind of stuff-matters person could benefit from being the one drowning while some other pompous ass removes his watch.  But I’m talking about basic stuff – a decent place to live, indoor plumbing, a really good rain slicker, a healthy meal, you know, stuff.

If you are pissed off about not being born into money, or your shitty job, or are coveting your neighbor’s new lawn mower, remember that living well is the best revenge.  You don’t have to be rich to cherry pick the best tools for your life and purposefully acquire them.  I’m not talking about collecting stuff for stuff’s sake.  I’m talking about collecting a small, carefully curated selection of quality things that will make your life easier.  In my life, creature comforts rule.

top10Presently I’m all about deciding what’s important to me and getting the best stuff for my circumstances.  Unless you are the timekeeper at a billion dollar sports arena or the New York Stock Exchange, you probably don’t need a Rolex.  But if you are trying to put your new portable kitchen island together for your apartment, you need a decent drill/driver.  The cheap one will piss you off and negate any joy from having solved your space problem.  Big buzz kill.  You deserve to enjoy life, no matter your lot in it.  That’s why you go to work every day.

Having the right tools for a given job makes all the difference.  Whether that job is making an angel food cake or installing flooring or simply staying dry in a rainstorm, the right equipment makes it easy and the result is a happier, nicer you.  Fixing a bad attitude is as simple as handing someone the right tool for the job.  Let’s call it situational therapy.

So instead of making you a list of resolutions about all the great things I’m going to do to make me a better person in 2015, I decided to get real.  I made a list of the must-have things for 2015 according to me.  Things that make my life as a human easier, and therefore make me a nicer person to be around.  What we all really need are the right tools for the job, whatever job we are doing, in whatever circumstances we are doing them.  Aren’t you glad I spared you all that motivational drivel about self-improvement?  Instead, I hope you find some inspiration to set your own priorities for purposeful acquisition of the tools you need for living life well. You are welcome.

  1. A nice place to live, even if it costs a bit too much. Your home is your castle, whether you own or rent.  It should be a place that puts you at ease and welcomes you. My awesome castleapartment is indeed my castle, and it’s new insulation and windows save on my utilities, so it all works out.  Homeownership is totally overrated.  But if you must do it, go for the newer, slightly-too-expensive, already-remodeled, water-tight home of your dreams.  Those fixer-uppers never really get fixed up before something else happens.  Trust me on this.  Been there three times.IMG_2748
  1. Reliable transportation. Now by reliable, I don’t necessarily mean new or pricey.  In my case, it turned out that reliable meant new and rather cheap because I have a slim budget and needed an all-inclusive vehicle.  The only way to get a vehicle with the maintenance expenses included is to go new. I got a rolling cargo box with just enough get-up-and-go to keep me from beating on the steering wheel in frustration.  It’s a cool little car.  I could go on, but you are already losing interest.  So just set yourself up with a decent vehicle that will not die on the road and leave you unable to pay for repairs on your modest salary like my last one did.
  1. DanskoClogA really good pair of shoes. If you sit behind a desk all day, this might not be on your list. Yet.  It may be number 8 here, but it’s really all the numbers.  If you are in agony over the pain in your feet, knees, and back because of your bad shoes, nothing else is going to be ok.  For an all-day stander and walker like me who can’t wear athletic shoes at work because they are not appropriate, check out brands like Dansko and Merrell.  Restaurant workers will love Dansko and Shoes for Crews (stick with the clogs).  In the trades?  Check out Timberland and Red Wing.  What’s on my feet is now the key to whether I’m having a good day or a really shitty one.  Your feet are your foundation.
  1. DanskoTriclimateOuterwear that actually keeps you warm, dry, or both. Is it cold where you live?  Does it rain a lot?  Then I have one word for you:  North Face.  OK, so that’s two words, but not when you type  There is no better jacket to protect against cold and rain.  It is that simple.  I recently invested in their Boundary Triclimate model and have absolutely no regrets.  None.  It is rare that I make a purchase over $100 and don’t beat myself up about it or consider returning it as a frivolous purchase.  Spending over $250 is monumental for a working class chick like me.  I have not been cold or wet one day since owning it.  Best. Purchase. Ever.  I look forward to being warm and dry for years to come.  Bring it, global warming.  We got this.
  1. Good tools. Like, you know, tools.  I remodeled 2 houses using crappy tools and the 3rd pushed me over the edge.  Using crappy tools made things way harder than they had to be, resulted in glaring mistakes, and ultimately cost more money as I had to re-do projects because the crappy tools ruined them.  One of the best purchases of my life was a Dewalt Dewalt pry barDrill/Driver.  It cost $200, which I think is the cheapest model they make.  But it works like a million bucks, every time.  That’s a stupid amount of money for the average homeowner to spend on a tool I told myself.  For years.  Then, tears streaming down my face and on the verge of a break down, I went to the hardware store and took the plunge.  Why the hell did I wait so long?  Black & Decker, I’m sorry, but your so-called drills and drivers suck.  Also, this handy little thing called a pry bar is the diggity bomb for a myriad of tasks.  Bite the bullet and get you some real tools like the pros use.
  1. Benriner Mandoline. Speaking of pro tools, chefs love these. If you don’t cook up anything more than reservations, you can skip this one.  If you cook at all, and ever need to slice anything, or want to make noodley julienne things (like carrots or zucchini, or potatoes for hash browns), you need this tool.  It is simply the best.  Full disclosure:  I am a cook and I manage a gourmet kitchen shop.  But that’s actually good for you, because I have used all the mandolins.  The good, the bad, the cheap, and the expensive.  And I can say unequivocally that this bad boy is the best.  It comes with 3 different julienne blades, is adjustable for Benrinerthickness of slices, and stays sharp.  It cleans up super easy. The next best one is by Jaccard, costs over $100, and takes up a lot more space in your cabinets.  At about $65, this is a true investment for your kitchen that is space saving and makes quick work of whatever you need to slice or julienne.  It comes with a finger guard, which I never use because I’m crazy like that.  You can spend 15-20 minutes slicing a 5 pound bag of potatoes with that dull knife you’ve got or you can spend 5 minutes with the Benriner and have them all picture-perfectly the same size.  What’s it gonna be?
  1. A great smart phone. OK, so I know phones are like clothes and everyone has their style.  But all you flip phone and TracPhone hangers-on need to stop fighting it and get a state-of-the-art digital device with a real carrier so you, too, can be connected 24/7.  This is a great time we live in, with so many advances in every area of life that this average chick can’t keepiphone up. But thanks to my iPhone 5S, knowledge is at the end of my fingertips. I am on my fourth year and second version of iPhone and I hear people complain about every other phone type in the universe but the iPhone.  My phone does so much I don’t even know all the stuff it can do.  But it does everything I need it to do and does it quickly and simply.  It’s a solid investment.  Apple makes a great phone.  But whatever you get, just get connected.  Don’t miss this fascinating time in which we live.
  1. Ceramic knives. Another cook’s tool that you reservation-makers won’t need. There are lotsKyoceraSantoku of ceramic knives on the market, but Kyocera is the best for the money.  You do not need to spend more.  For about $60, you can have a great santoku that never needs sharpened, goes in the dishwasher, and can slice a tomato or a potato with the same ease.  I have a lot of knives at work in the kitchen, and use them all when teaching classes.  I recommend this knife to home cooks more than any other because it can handle any job you have with no sweat and no smashing.  It’s wicked sharp and stays that way.  Try one and you will never use another steel knife.  That’s a promise.
  1. The right bags for you. Now, this is probably more of a woman thing ScoutPocketRocketthan a man thing, but men need bags too – at least when they travel or have little kids. But I’m not talking strictly about suitcases here; think shopping totes and purses and cosmetic bags and diaper bags and, well, bags.  Bags for whatever.  My new favorite bags are from Scout Bags.  This DC-based company has got a pretty tight lock on what I want and need in a bag, and the prices are reasonable compared to all the really fancy handbags and totes in the universe.  Waterproof? Check. Durable? Check. Cleanable?  Check. Stylish? Check. The Pocket Rocket is my next investment because I like to keep things organized and I am tired of my 5 year old leather Nine West handbag (also a great $50 investment, by the way – that’s $10 a year).  I presently have The Nooner to keep my lunch and snacks cold and The Weekender to carry, well, everything a person needs for a couple few days.  I’m not willing to spend my shoe budget on bags, so this does it for me.  Whatever your thing, invest in the right bags for you that are good quality and durable so you don’t have to replace them often.
  1. Good, clean food. I absolutely believe that we are what we eat.  That’s an entire article unto itself, or perhaps 3 articles.  I have had some health problems that led to a lot of research in this last year or so, and what I have learned is a lot.  If I had to distill it down to easy-to-live-by guidance, I would say this:  eat whole, fresh or frozen organic foods at home and avoid anything highly processed.  A lot of problems with our health can be solved by losing the boxes, bags, and – to a lesser extent – cans from our lives.  When eating out, choose locally owned restaurants that focus on local ingredients.  The most important thing is that the food not be highly adulterated, modified, manipulated, or altered to withstand weed killer, mass
    processing, or to last longer.  We should eat it the way it comes, not fold, staple and mutilate it and then try to make it look like food again.  Pesticides and preservatives are chemicals – you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to imagine that those chemicals are harmful to our bodies.  Just be kind to you and eat the best quality food ingredients your budget can stand.  More expensive does not necessarily mean better, but in our marketplace right now it often does.  That’s just wrong.  But the more we purchase organic, clean foods, the more availability goes up and the price comes down.  Farmers and manufacturers are about the bottom line, so vote with your wallet and what you want will become more readily available with a little time.

My New Kitchen Toys: Chef’n Pinch+Pour

20 04 2012

As a cook and former retailer, I have long been a fan of Chef’n – they make some really cool kitchen tools that are very high quality for a moderate price. I have several of their products that I find invaluable and superior to the competing products on the market.

(Please note that Chef’n has no idea I am making this post, and there is nothing in it for me except to share my opinion with you!)

Their salad spinners, which come in large and small, are far superior to others I have seen.  As a bonus, the basket can be used as a strainer, and the outer bowl is nice enough to be used as a serving bowl at the table.

Today I picked up one of their newer products called “Pinch + Pour Prep Bowls.”  Prep work is a priority for me when cooking, helping me not to forget ingredients and saving me time once I turn on the heat.  I never have enough little ramekins.  These handy little bowls, sold in a set of 4 various sizes, are pinch-able.  When you pinch, a lip is formed in the silicone making pouring neat and easy.  What a great idea!  I highly recommend them.

Pinch + Pour!

Here’s another favorite of mine – the “StemGem.”  It minimizes fruit removal grabbing just the stem, and it much faster than hulling a pint of strawberries with a paring knife.

Peeling? Get it done fast and cheap!

24 03 2012

I am not one for collecting lots of kitchen tools, but there are some that make life so much easier and don’t take up much room.  Vegetable peelers are one of those things.  You can use a paring knife, but that’s not very efficient.

I have had a lot of peelers over the years.  I can tell you that they are not all created equal.  Ever had a peeler that worked great for a couple months, but gradually you were looking for your paring knife because using the peeler was like scraping the skin off the potato with a butter knife?  Me too.  Some blades just don’t hold up.  Sadly, these are usually the more expensive peelers.

Which do you prefer – the stick peeler with the blade on the side, or the Y peeler?  I’m a Y peeler girl, all the way.  It allows me to peel away from my body, thus avoiding accidents.  And if it’s sharp, I can move really quickly taking wider strips with just one pass.

I have used the OXOs, Zyliss, Kuhn Rikon, RSVP Endurance, and an assortment of cheeper peelers.  Hands down, the Swissmar Y Peeler is my favorite – and at a mere $6 (average price), it’s a steal.  I have had mine over a year now, and it is still as sharp as the day I bought it.  I don’t put it in the dishwasher, just wash it by hand, dry it, and put it away.  It still looks like the day I bought it too.  And it has a little hard plastic blade cover that prevents getting cut when rooting around in the drawer.

They are often sold in a set of 3 peelers, including a Julienne blade, for about $15.  Go get you one – you won’t be disappointed!


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