5 Awesome but Totally Unnecessary Kitchen Tools

File these under “For the person who has everything.”

Like the title says, these things are awesome, but if you don’t have them… you will probably still live a wonderful and fulfilling life.

5 Awesome but Unnecessary Kitchen Tools

  1. An ice cream maker is totally unnecessary but awesome to have. Case in point–we got one (not the one pictured) and have made ice cream a few times by now! The one pictured plays ice cream truck music when it’s ready, and since it has a compressor, cools itself down instead of having to store the drum in the freezer. Nice features, if you can afford them.
  2. Copper cookware will last forever and is the best conductor of heat–but that kind of luxury has a price! The set shown will cost about a grand.
  3. Using a juicer is a great commitment that one can make towards their health. If I were to buy a juicer, I would get this one. It gives you a little bit of fruit/veggie pulp (read: more of the nutrients) while still taking some pulp out so the smoothie is still drinkable.
  4. An espresso machine. Yes, I have a Nespresso. No, I don’t need it. Yes, it’s awesome. Enough said? Stop looking at me like that!
  5. Novelty fruit tools. Okay, I lumped these together. People have been eating fruit perfectly fine for thousands of years without fancy tools! I mean… at one point I’m sure people used rocks and sharpened sticks to make yummy fruit goodness happen. However…. I know from experience that if you have a whole bag of cherries that you want to be pit-less, and fast, that investing in a cherry pitter is a big step towards time and sanity.

Anything you care to add?? Or, do you think any of these items are necessary? Share your opinion in the comments! 

The 5 Kitchen Tools You Need

When I thought up this post, I wanted to do an experiment. “If I could only have five kitchen tools, what would they be?” Excluding tabletop items like plates and silverware, here’s what I came up with, and my rationale.

Top 5 Kitchen Tools

  1. Every kitchen needs an 8-inch chef’s knife. This much is a given. Get a sharp one with a nice point, and you can do most of your detail-work, paring, with it as well (although paring knives are safer since they’re less unwieldy). I wholly recommend this one–my favorite feature is the hollows along the edge, which reduce the effect of food clinging to the knife after you’ve made your cut. A great chef’s knife can also be used to peel/smash garlic.
  2. If you make the investment of a good knife, you must have a cutting board to keep it in shape. The people who lived in the apartment before us just used… the kitchen counter. There are cut marks all over and it’s so awful–not to mention bad for the knife’s blade! Getting a good cutting board (wood or plastic) is very important. And never, ever use a knife on tile, glass, stone, or metal. Just don’t! If you get a large and attractive cutting board, you can also use it for tons of other things. Decor, serving tray, perched on an ottoman to make it a coffee table? All of the above.
  3. If I could only have one pot/pan, I would get a nice large sauté pan (with lid). The large surface area on the bottom can be used like a skillet (frying pan), but the high sides and lid can act as a saucepan or stockpot to make rice or even soup or chili, if you have to. This one in particular has some slope to it which makes it almost wok-like, too. Every pan has its own use, but this one is a nice, useful hybrid and can perform lots of duties in a pinch.
  4. My go-to item for stirring, flipping, everything is my bamboo spatula. If you want to cheat on this “five tools” challenge, you can grab this set, which is what I have used for years and I loooove. Bamboo holds up really nicely (I prefer it to regular light-wood spoons or turners) and will not damage nonstick pans. Overall, one should avoid using metal utensils in any pots and pans unless it’s a non-coated stainless steel pan.
  5. The sauté pan I listed above can go in the oven, but there’s just something about a rectangular, covered casserole dish that I wouldn’t want to be without. Use it for anything from casseroles to roasting meat, to brownies or cakes.

I hope this is encouraging to someone who watches the Food Network and sees the chefs using all this specialized gadgetry or walks into a kitchen store and gets glassy-eyed. You can create amazing meals at home with the most minimal of tools. Even someone with the smallest of kitchens surely has space for these… right?

But, just for fun… come back Wednesday for 5 unnecessary but awesome-to-have tools. ;) 

Christmas on Coronado Island

Christmas in San Diego is altogether a different experience when compared to the “standard” American Christmas that you see on TV. No blizzards, no scraping ice off the windshield, and no temperatures below freezing at all, for that matter. It’s common to have 65 degree days in December, perfect for strolling outdoors in a light cardigan or simply a long-sleeved shirt. I have fully adjusted back to not grabbing a coat before heading out the door (so different from Kansas!)

We do have our own Christmas traditions here in San Diego, though. One of them is December Nights, a two-night long festival at Balboa Park which draws over 300,000 spectators and makes parking a nightmare. I have never been, so we tried to go this year–brought the camera and everything–then drove around nearby neighborhoods for about half an hour (trying to find parking) before giving up and moving on to plan B…

Christmas at Hotel Del Coronado

Plan B is another excellent San Diego Christmas sight to behold–the famous Hotel Del Coronado gets decked out with lights and manmade skating rink outside…

Lights and skating at Coronado

…and features a famously opulent Christmas tree in the main lobby. While we were there, a caroling group (in Victorian garb) added to the ambiance. The tree’s decorations are different every year, and this year the theme was (apparently) …pillows?

The Christmas tree at Hotel Del Coronado

Really though, I love seeing a tree packed-to-the-brim with decorations like this. My tree (which you will see Friday) isn’t nearly this full, but is special in its own way, I guess.

Fountain at Coronado

After taking a stroll around the hotel, it is nice to walk up and down Orange Avenue and check out the stores and restaurants, and to drive up and down the streets of this wealthy community and check out the Christmas lights on multi-million dollar homes. We stopped in at Bottega Italiana (1017 C Ave, 92118) and got some delicious gelato.

Gelato on Coronado Island

If you like theater, the Lamb’s Players Theatre offers up a different Festival of Christmas stage production every year. My parents have gone many years in a row and it has become quite a tradition. I can’t promise that it won’t be corny, but the actors and actresses are all really, really talented musicians and it is bound to be an enjoyable (and family friendly) evening.

My tips:

  • Park wherever you find a place–it isn’t a big area and everything is easily in walking distance.
  • There are lots of people trying to get a good picture of the tree. Don’t linger right up next to it! Admire from a few feet away so others can get their turn.
  • Look like you belong! Yes, tourists flock to this location but for heaven’s sakes don’t show up in board shorts or ratty clothes. This is a resort hotel– a classy establishment.
  • If you have the cash to drop, I hear that brunch at the Hotel Del is to die for!

Overall, this is a cheap wintertime date since it’s mostly driving around and sightseeing! Our only splurge was on the gelato, which wasn’t much of a splurge at all for that matter–each scoop cost less than a Starbucks drink. Seeing the lights and the ice skaters is a nice way to remind yourself that although you were wearing a tank top earlier in the day–it still is Christmastime, after all!

Eurotrip: Part 2 (Bruges and Brussels)

Days 3 and 4: Bruges and Brussels

Bruges. All I knew about Bruges before we decided to visit it was that my mother LOVED it in 1984. So we rented the Colin Farrell movie, In Bruges (not recommended). The film kind of gave us a taste of what to expect, at least as far as what the city looks like, however our trip was not in the dead of winter nor did it involve hit men.

Once we found our rental house I sneaked in (before the luggage was dragged in to spoil the first impression) to snap some photos of it because listen–it was CUTE! Below I’ve got a teaser, but I’ll put up the whole tour in a separate post.

The upside to renting a vacation house and staying in the same spot for a few days is that each day the foreign city becomes more and more familiar. That, and you can make just as big of a mess as you would at home, without feeling guilty that housekeeping would come in the next morning and silently judge you for leaving your dirty clothes in a heap on the floor. But I digress.

Architecture like this is a surefire way to know that you are in Bruges. The roofs sloping to the sides and not to the front/back, combined with the cute stair-stepped effect, creates such a quaint look! When we were there, the city was packed, and I mean PACKED with tourists. This detracted from the quaintness, but only by like 1%. So I still totally recommend this city for a weekend visit for anyone planning a Eurotrip of their own, at any time of the year.

On Saturday morning, in a normally empty square (‘t Zand) there is a market including fish, meat, pastries, bread, olives (above), eggs, cheese, etc. Also sold are clothes, socks, toys… basically, the sky is the limit. I have seen markets like this before and didn’t fall for the “cheap” poorly made clothing items but was fascinated by the food offered. Doug in particular was struck by the “buy-your-meat-in-the-street” aspect (having grown up in a family meat retail business). This market shoud not to be confused with the Markt, another square nestled deeper in the city, where a reportedly more charming and tourist-friendly market is held on Wednesdays (we were not in Bruges on Wednesday to confirm or deny this).

Saturday we walked along a tourist-packed shopping street and got some lace, for which Bruges is famous. My mother got a piece to go with the one she had purchased back in 1984. For lunch we all got waffles from a food truck parked in the Markt. Mine was good, but Doug’s had ice cream and was better. I snagged some of his ice cream for mine, gobbled it down and watched him struggle with his rapidly-melting mess. I laughed (but then provided him with a wet wipe). After lunch we took a boat tour: I highly recommend getting the full tourist experience by taking a canal tour. We were really impressed by our guide, a college-aged student who rattled off facts in Flemish, French, and English; My dad was lucky enough to sit in the front of the boat near him and got bonus “insider info” mentioned to him in between the scripted tidbits.

The city has four towers–many old European cities have more than one cathedral or tall building, but the handy thing about Bruges is that all of them were built in drastically different styles, making it really easy to use them for triangulation–it’s a lot harder to get lost this way! The one above was especially unique, in my opinion (it also stands out to me since it was featured in In Bruges). Unfortunately, we were unable to climb to the top for a view of the city, since we arrived too late in the day.

Exploring the city by bike would have been amazing! Instead, I snapped a photo of this one… I love the competing color and texture of red brick and gray cobblestones.

Sunday, which was Father’s Day, my mom had a paper to write for grad school so we absconded with my dad and visited Brussels. I am glad that we visited Brussels, especially the famous Grand Place (below) but I’m VERY happy we decided to make it a day trip and stay in Bruges. My overall impression of Brussels was that it was dirty. The Grand Place was breathtaking, though. Three sides of the square (it would have been four, but one large building was undergoing renovation/restoration) were ornately decorated and gold-leafed. It was hard to pick out the most gorgeous building–it was hard even knowing where to look. I would have loved to see this square in its glory days a few hundred years ago, or during August when they make a “carpet” for the inner section of the square with flowers in intricate designs!

We walked down a street lined with restaurants all offering the exact same thing: a three-course meal for €12,50. We chose a restaurant… Actually, the host dragged us in off the street with his smooth-talking ways. When we sat down at the pre-set table, our plates were dirty and we were having second thoughts. The plates turned out to be just for show, as the table was cleared when we placed our order and when the food finally came out, everything seemed clean. A note, however: Remember how I mentioned the “restaurants” were all offering the same thing? Well, our food didn’t come from the back of the restaurant (where we assumed the kitchen was) but from a different shopfront on the street. It seems as if all the food for the restaurants surrounding us was from the same place. We don’t know the facts, but this is what it seemed like. Anyway, the salad and entree were good and dessert consisted of another Belgian waffle (not as good as the one from Saturday).

All in all, Brussels certainly was a change of pace from Bruges, but we were pleased to take the train (one hour each direction, €14,90 round trip, by the way) back to our “home” in quaint and peaceful Bruges.

And one more note: People in the north part of Belgium speak Flemish, and in the south part speak French. In planning your own trip, be sure to research both spellings of Bruges/Brugge and Brussels/Bruxelles. You’ll find more information this way!

You can catch part one here, and my next Eurotrip post will cover Paris! I’d like to do an overall wrap up of my impressions after that, so if you have any questions please feel free to ask! 

31 Bits

Have you heard of 31 Bits jewelry? Ever since hearing about it from my friend Sarah, I have been crazy about it. Basically anything that empowers women to rise above their situation and fairly earn their living is great in my book. Its why I was so excited to do an internship in Microfinance during college, why I support Heifer and Not For Sale, and now I’m proud to say that I stand behind 31 bits!

Last Saturday I offered to help Sarah host an event at our friend Traci’s print shop. I was psyched about it even before I’d seen one of these necklaces or held one in my hands. They are so great! Yes, they are made from scraps of paper, but to me they look different from all recycled paper art I’ve seen. Not kitchy or recycled-looking, just simple and beautiful! Oh, did I mention Sarah is a professional photographer? She took her own promo shots for a postcard we passed out around town. I’m obsessed with them. Just as good (if not better?? i’m biased…) than the stuff on the 31 Bits site.

2 above photos (c) Beautiful Isolations / Sarah Reeves

We were lucky to have a beautiful location in a public place. In addition to people we’d invited, we had a few walk in off the street! They say that in a week a woman can produce between 5 and 15 items, depending on complexity. Well, it’s safe to say our sales on that day supported many weeks’ wages!

Here’s our set-up. I can’t wait to see Sarah’s pics from the day! We also had refreshments (hot drinks and cookies) and a photobooth–we’ll be sending the pictures to the women who make the jewelry as an additional human connection. Have you ever seen the people who make the items you buy? We can all agree it’s a rare connection.

Did you know it’s easy to host your own house party?

Christmas House Party from 31 Bits on Vimeo.