Best Things Since Sliced Bread
I love kitchen gadgets! If I had my way, I’d have a giant kitchen with every gadget known to man. But alas, we all have to live within our limits. Still, there are some very cool products that must be tried.
This little gadget is my all-time favourite. Avocados are loaded with nutritional value; among other things, they’re high in polyunsaturated fat, fiber and vitamin K. But man, they’re not easy to use! This all-singing/dancing tool cuts the fruit in half, removes the pit and slices the flesh. If you get one, you’ll wonder how you managed before it.
My brother’s wife bought a Sodastream several years ago; I tried it once while visiting them but wasn’t terribly impressed, to be honest. Maybe it was just the flavour she made.
Fast-forward a few years and my consumption of canned and bottled Fresca (my all-time favourite soda), Diet Coke and soda water was starting to weigh on me. I was shocked at the number of trips I had to make to dump bottles and cans in the recycling chute. Better late in life than never, I turned a new leaf and focused on ways to reduce my environmental footprint, starting with a Sodastream Fizzi. The way I looked at it, I could at least make soda water rather than buy it. And if I could replicate Fresca and Diet Coke or at least come close, bonus! As it turns out, Diet Coke was easy – the Sodastream diet cola flavour mix is almost a dead-ringer. Fresca, on the other hand, has eluded me. But that was a first-world problem; I sucked it up, buttercup, and got used to the Sodastream pink grapefruit flavour. Now the odd Fresca is a treat but not a necessity.
I strongly suggest you give Sodastream (or anything similar) a try. Especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s painfully clear that we humans are slowly but surely destroying the earth, and it needs a break.
This little hydroponic growing station is truly one of the best things since sliced bread – especially for apartment-dwellers! My youngest son gave me one as a gift. (He had seen my sad attempt to grow herbs the traditional way, in pots on the window ledge.)
There are several different versions; the one I have came with 6 herb-seed pods, but you can grow lots of different things in the Aerogarden – herbs, vegetables and even flowers. The LED grow light is programmed to come on 15 hours a day, and the unit tells you when to add water or plant food. It’s truly fool proof. The only downfall (another first-world problem) is that the herbs are so prolific, it’s hard to use them fast enough. So I freeze them, give them away, etc.
Whipped Cream Dispenser
When I was a kid, it became crystal clear that I had a penchant for certain dairy products – namely milk (we had Holstein cows until I was 11), butter and whipped cream. Before my mother discovered margarine – which I understand was considered a wonder-product back in the day – our family used butter like everyone else. Apparently, as a toddler, I would reach across the table, grab a fistful of butter and blissfully shove it in my mouth. Can you blame me? I still love butter but of course have to regulate my intake.
As I got older, I distinctly remember many extended-family dinners, usually including my Nana, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Bruce, that featured dessert topped with whipped cream. My mom would stand at the counter forever with the beaters, whipping, whipping, whipping. Not me! Several years ago, friends gave me the birthday gift that just keeps on giving. There are many different makes but the one I have is made by iSi. All you do is pour 35% whipping cream into it (and you can add vanilla, sugar, or whatever you like), screw in a CO2 cartridge, and voila! Not only is it dead-simple, it’s a terrific party demonstration ☺
Steamer vs. Iron
Is the classic iron really needed anymore? I’m sure there are some Martha Stewarts out there that still iron everything including their bed sheets (and good on you if you’re one of them!) but I think most people have given up on that model of the perfect homemaker. Still, we all have clothes that just don’t magically emerge from the dryer in ready-to-wear condition. Don’t know how to iron or don’t have the patience or time? A steamer is the perfect solution. Just hang up the item and magically remove the wrinkles in minutes. The one I have – by Rowenta – is easy to use and works very well.
Garlic Peeler & French Ceramic Grater
There are many gadgets designed to deal with garlic, and I’ve tried several of them. Most, I’ve found, look very interesting but are a pain in the butt to clean. On a girls’ trip to California many years ago, I bought these two amazing things at a flea market. I thought they were hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind products, but then discovered that they’re readily available on Amazon and elsewhere. To peel a clove of garlic, you just put it in the blue rubber cylinder and roll it around with the palm of your hand. To grate/mince it, you just rub the garlic clove on the yellow saucer, across the diameter. These items are so simple, they defy logic!
Re-usable Silicone Baking Mats
Many of us have used great amounts of elbow grease, scrubbing baking sheets like there’s no tomorrow, just to get them to a reusable (but not pretty) state. I hate washing dishes. (If you like it, you’re weird. Just kidding.) So I wish I had discovered the magic of the silicone baking mat much earlier in life. There are many varieties and brands (Silpat is one). You just put it on top of your pan, no greasing required, and bake/broil your food. Clean-up is such a breeze, even I don’t mind it.
A friend first put me on to these very tasty, yet extremely easy-to-prepare soup mixes. I’ve made a few of them and have never been disappointed. The Mexican Tortilla mix, in particular, is just about as good as it gets. This little package makes a ton of soup, so it’s great for a crowd or big family, but can certainly be frozen and enjoyed over time. I garnish the soup with coriander, avocado, tortilla chips; sour cream and/or grated cheese are also options. Absolutely delicious!
When it was time to replace our stovetop, my husband and I disagreed on the way to go. He wanted electric and I wanted a gas stove. Around the time we were deliberating, we happened to visit friends in Nova Scotia who raved about their new induction range, and agreed this was an excellent compromise. Like gas, induction works very quickly; you can boil a pot of water, for example, in a matter of minutes. And like electric, the ceramic stovetop is easy to clean. But unlike both electric and gas, induction stovetops do not generate heat; they generate an oscillating magnetic field. I really miss my induction stove now that I’m not living in that country home! A few words of caution, though:
Not all induction stoves are created equal. There are economical models in some new apartment buildings, for example, that are not much different than electric stovetops. So do your research and find the model that will work best for you.
You can’t use just any cookware. Your pots and pans need to be made from a magnetic material– i.e. stainless steel or cast iron.The induction cooktop will induce the electrons in a magnetic material to move around, creating an electric current. This current generates heat in the pot.
So if you’re in the market for a new range or cooktop, and already have or are willing to buy the right cookware, I highly recommend you consider it. Once you go induction, you’ll never go back ☺
Spike Gourmet Seasoning
I only mention it a few times in my recipes, but there are many tasty uses for Spike. It’s a magical mix of spices, herbs and other things that will instantly jazz up just about anything you want it to. Of course, it’s not the only game in town – seasoned salt and Mrs. Dash are just two of many alternatives – but there’s just something about Spike – mmm!
Copper Chef Crisper
This little set, or the Gotham Steel version, which is just as good, was recommended to me by my friend Karin. She’s an awesome cook so I almost always just take her word for it. She’s fed me dinner many times over the years, and some of those meals featured breaded fish baked on this non-stick, 2-piece air fryer*. There’s no turning required and it’s easy to clean. As a bonus, the bottom tray can be used separately like any other baking sheet. It’s great for anything you would normally bake and would otherwise need to turn part way through – any meats, veggies, etc.
* A word to the wise: With all the hype about air fryers, I did a little research and discovered that these appliances that are all the rage are just small convection ovens. Their limited size means you have to cook multiple batches if you’re making anything in quantity. So if you have a convection oven and a copper crisper, you certainly don’t need an air-fryer appliance IMO.
If you live in a big house and/or have a big closet, fast-forward past this section. If not, listen up! I moved from a big house with a walk-in closet that was more like a dressing room to a small apartment, which I think of as akin to a boat. Boats in general (and sailboats in particular, with which I have extensive experience) have perfected the art of space utilization; every square inch has a purpose. If you blend Marie Kondo’s advice (see The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up) and the space-utilizing efficiencies of boat design, living in a small space is easy.
One of several solutions I discovered as I settled into my new life is this shoe organizer that hangs on the back of any door and holds up to 36 pairs of shoes. Anything that hangs on a door is a space-saving lifesaver for a small apartment dweller – case closed.
As I’ve already mentioned, my spices have been tiered and sorted alphabetically for years. I’ve seen many friends’ cupboards crammed with spice jars, packages, etc. and I wonder why they struggle to find what they need every time, rather than just organize it all once and then easily find what they need. One of life’s mysteries ☺
Every kitchen is different; your spices may be better stored in drawers or in a cupboard. At my former country home, it was drawers. This simple, trimmable insert is what I used. Then I moved to a city apartment with precisely 3 drawers and so now, it’s a cupboard. This nifty little unit adjusts to whatever size you need and displays the spices (which, of course, I organize alphabetically) so they can be easily seen.
I can’t remember how I discovered it, but I’ve had this simple little chopper for years and wouldn’t want to live without it. There was a time when I was a bit of a kitchen-gadget fanatic; whenever I saw anything different or new, I had to have it. What I learned from that phase is that complicated does not equal useful. This chopper is dead-simple; you just throw in whatever you want to chop (e.g. veggies, herbs or garlic), put the lid on, and pull the cord until you get your desired consistency. If you’re not going to use everything right away, it’s also a good storage container. And it’s pretty easy to clean, as these things go.
A cathartic process and great stress-reducer
A few years ago, a co-worker suggested that I read this now-well-known book by Marie Kondo. I don’t normally go for these kinds of self-help/organizational guides, but somehow the book really resonated with me. The way the author talks about touching your things and asking yourself if they “spark joy” is a little weird to the average North American, so some people just can’t get into it. But I translated the already-Japanese-to-English translation into my own language – “Do I like this? Is it important to me?”
After reading the book, I committed myself to execute Marie Kondo’s advice throughout my entire (pretty big) house, which was no different than many others – full of “stuff” that had accumulated over the years and been largely ignored while children were raised, chores were done, careers were built, etc. If you ask my family, they’ll likely say I was a little manic about it (so maybe just don’t ask). I spent a week or so over Christmas holidays touching everything, asking myself “Does this spark joy?” and piling up the discards. By the time I was done, I had 5 trailer-loads of stuff to give- or throw away, and that doesn’t include the stuff that was burned in the firepit (NB: we lived in the country).
But that was just Part 1; what to do with the stuff that remained? So I read Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide”, which suggests keeping all like things in one place, as well as efficient ways to organize items, fold clothes, etc. I’m certainly not holding myself out as an expert on Marie’s methods, but what I took away from that book was that, if you store things in a way that allows you to see everything at a glance, life just gets much simpler. And it’s true! Then and to this day, that’s how I’ve organized my stuff. Spices are tiered and alphabetical, and clothes are folded to stand on their sides, for example (picture bras in a lingerie store). Even when I travel, I can open my suitcase and see all the contents without digging down through piles of clothes. My travelling companions say they’re impressed … but have they changed their packing methods? Sadly, no.
The whole process was truly cathartic; Marie Kondo was right – her method was indeed life-changing! Once you’ve done it, maintaining it is a breeze. So many “first-world” people are stressed by the complexity and clutter of their lives – a problem they brought onto themselves; living in a simple, well-organized home eliminates one very big source of stress. Thank you, Marie!