Category Archives: Stuff I Like

Stuff I like: Instant Pot

The Instant Pot is the most basic white girl thing this side of athleisure wear and waiting with bated breath for Starbucks to unleash pumpkin spice lattes.  You know what?  The Instant Pot freaking rocks and I am not going to apologize.

Sure, the small appliance miracle known as the Instant Pot can make yogurt and serve as a countertop canner and do a hundred other things you can discover down the rabbit hole that is Pinterest.  Do you know what the Instant Pot is really good at?  Letting you make something for dinner on a weeknight that would have been near impossible.

How so?  How about weeknight risotto?  Unless you are unemployed or you’re a masochist who wants to make their children wait until after 8:00 for dinner risotto is something reserved for the weekend.  All of that stirring and careful addition of stock at just the right temperature is not something you undertake on a weeknight.  Banish the complexity and embrace the Instant Pot.

Mushroom risotto is cutting board to plate in less than an hour.  While the Instant Pot is coming to pressure and cooking use that time to prepare a quick salad and additional side if you are feeling frisky.

How easy?  Here you go:

  1. Set Instant Pot to “Saute.” Melt about 4 tablespoons butter.  Add 8 to 16 ounces of diced mushrooms—choose your favorite variety.
  2. Stir infrequently until mushrooms release liquid. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of soy sauce.  Continue sautéing until the remaining liquid begins to thicken.
  3. Add an entire diced onion and a couple of diced shallots. Saute until soft or your preference.
  4. Once the vegetable mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the pot liner move to one side. Add a nice coating of olive oil.  Once heated add two cups of Arborio rice and stir until most grains show the white dot.
  5. Deglaze the pan with some white wine. I use cheapo leftover chardonnay.
  6. Add four cups of chicken or vegetable stock. Make sure that there is no rice stuck to the sides of the pot liner above the liquid level.
  7. Put the lid on and set for 10 minutes.
  8. Once the time is up do a manual release of the pressure and stir in some parmesan cheese.

That is it.  Are the measurements—save for the rice and stock—hazy at best?   Yep.  I do not get hung up on a cup of onions or a quarter cup of shallots.  It’s a preference thing.  Sometimes the mushrooms at the farmers market look amazing and I add more than usual.  Sometimes the onions available are kind of junk, so I go light on those.

This is the best thing about the Instant Pot.  It took a somewhat fussy dish like risotto and made it something so easy that I am inclined to let it be an improv moment.  I would never have done that staring an hour of stirring stock in ladle by ladle.

This is what things we bring into our lives do: make things easier and make things fun.  For me, the Instant Pot does just that and I ask no more of it.  Now, if I could just figure out when Starbucks was going to bring back pumpkin spice lattes…


What’s in the Box: Nomadik August 2017

This month’s theme may be “summer adventure” but I am going to go with flashback.  Seriously, the stuff that came in this month’s box takes me back to an earlier time in my life.  How so?

Consider the Mountainsmith Cooler Tube:


Do you remember when these were all over your college campus in the 1990s?  Granted, the earlier versions were usually made of black nylon as opposed to eco-friendly hemp but the idea was the same.  Load a six pack of cold beer into a tube, sling it over your shoulder, and enjoy the great outdoors with a few beers.

For me this meant spending the better part of a lazy weekend afternoon playing ultimate and sharing cold Pabst Blue Ribbons—before that beer became the choice of flannel clad hipsters—with my fellow disc chuckers.  Now we have better options.  Soft sided coolers hold more beer at a colder temperature for longer for not much of a penalty in weight or comfort.  Other than hiding a six pack in a golf bag what purpose does the cooler tube serve anymore?

You want another flashback?  Check out the Chums:


I thought these were only used by river guides and people at theme parks.  Now, the good folks at Nomadik do admit that these are the choice of water sports enthusiasts for retaining glasses in all conditions.

Combined with the final item of Surface Face Stick I cannot help but tell a few river guide jokes:


What do you call a river guide who just broke up with his girlfriend?  Homeless.

How do you find a river guide in the dark?  It’s hard.

What is the difference between a river guide and god?  God does not think that he is a river guide.

Sorry, river guide jokes just tend to roll off the tongue this time of year.  You could substitute ski instructor for river guide and get about the same impact.

I said in prior posts that Nomadik was going to have to come on strong to get me to consider renewing my gift subscription.  I am just not feeling the need.  The problem is that I am not exposed to new things as much as I get things in the mail that I just do not care about.  It is kind of the same problem I see whenever I visit an REI or Sierra Trading Post.  People seem enamored with buying stuff that seems cool in the store, but that they will rarely if ever use once they get home.  Come on, how many of those cool shaped bottle openers by the cash registers do people every actually use to open a bottle of beer?

What’s in the Box: Nomadik July 2017

I actually got to writing about July’s Nomadik box before the next month’s box was ready to ship.  Not bad considering I spent the first part of the month in Colorado struggling with altitude and failing in my quest to summit a 14er.

Every Day Carry (EDC) is the theme of July’s Nomadik box.  Now, EDC started off as something for concealed or open carry gun advocates to show others what they took out onto the street every day.  Hit the interwebs, search for EDC, and be prepared to see a plethora of images detailing the pocket dumps of EDC advocates.  The term EDC has evolved lately to encompass other enthusiast communities like the outdoors and I guess that is who Nomadik is hoping to satisfy with this box.

Is it dorky to get excited about a keychain?  Regardless, I am digging the Exotac FREEkey:


The idea here is that it is easy to add or remove keys without the usual hassle of cracking fingernails or pinching skin.  With a well-placed squeeze the ring opens up:


Granted, I do not frequently add or remove keys but the struggle is real.  The test of the FREEkey’s worth will be how it holds up over the next few months when compared with my five year old key ring.

Have you heard of Famous Surf Supply?  I hadn’t, but now I have a vacuum water bottle with their logo emblazoned on it so I guess I have heard of Famous Surf Supply:


Look, it’s a vacuum bottle.  Like carabiners can we ever really have enough of these things?  I appreciate that it came with an alternative lid that has a screw top for drinking.  I outfitted all of my old school wide mouth Nalgene bottles with a similar cap and it makes a world of difference.  It may be from some famous company, but it is after all just another vacuum bottle in a world of Yeti tumblers.

Do you even MOLLE bro?  Are you an operator who operates in an operation environment?  Sorry for the sidebar into mall ninja jokes.  This is a 3V Gear utility pouch:


3V?  As in “veni, vidi, vici.”  Very subtle guys.  If you know what MOLLE is you are probably aware of the guys who cannot get enough of the military’s standard system of loops and straps for bags and other gear.  I have seen guys outfit the backs of truck seats and the interior roofs of Jeeps with attachment points.  I am sure that it serves a purpose when you are trying to outfit hundreds of thousands of soldiers with gear but a well thought out pack will accomplish the same thing.  Heck, it might even be high speed, low drag.  Sorry, I went into mall ninja territory again.

It’s a small pouch that you can loop through standard MOLLE straps.  You could put some stuff in here or you could have it collect some dust in your bin of stuff you may get to someday.

I really enjoy getting food items in these boxes.  It is a function of my desire to try every new energy bar or snack that shows up in the little boxes by the cash register of your local bike or ski shop.  Why?  I have no idea, but if Honey Stinger comes out with something new I am usually right there buying one to try out the next day.  This month’s box included a Big Sur Bar:


First off, it is big.  Like a very weighty granola bar.  I was somewhat afraid to look at the caloric content given its heft, but the Date Night flavor clocks in at 200 calories.  Wait a second, that is 200 calories per serving and the label says that the package contains three servings.  WTF?  Can we please stop the labelling insanity where items usually consumed as a single piece or serving are chopped up into multiple servings?  So, this thing has 600 calories.  Damn!

Second, it is layered:


This would not have been a problem had the bar not separated into three pieces along these fault lines about four bites into the bar.  Not really a problem unless you are intending to actually consume this while being active, which is sort of the target market for this monstrosity.  I am going to have to take a pass on future Big Sur Bars and keep stocking my Honey Stingers.

What’s in the Box: Nomadik June 2017

This is getting to become a trend.  My monthly Nomadik subscription box comes in the mail and I forget to write anything about it for at least two or three weeks.  My bad.

The problem is that I am not really getting a lot enjoyment out of what is coming in these boxes.  This month’s box—the theme is “camp kitchen”—really seems like someone was mailing it in over at Nomadik.  It is as if someone called up Sierra Trading Post or the guys running Sports Authority’s bankruptcy liquidation and said, “I need to fill a couple of hundred boxes with some kind of outdoorsy stuff.  What have you got collecting dust over there?”

Here is what you get when that is the question.

BananaGrams WildTiles:


If you have not seen BananaGrams yet you have probably been playing too many games of Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity or whatever else it is that people play when they are not on their phones playing Candy Crush.  I guess it is a good game for people who like to travel since it comes in a fun banana shaped bag and requires little more than a flat surface to play upon.

As with some inclusions in prior months I already have a BananaGrams game in my collection of family friendly board games.  This little bag o’ fun is heading straight to my friends’ condo in Colorado.  Maybe some random weekend renters will get some use out of it.  Or I will play a game with my kids over Christmas when I convince them to finally stop playing Clue.  Seriously, how many times can a ten year old play Clue?

Wildo Camp-A-Box Light:


Can we finally dispense with the legend that is the spork?  The spork does none of the tasks for which it is intended very well.  It cannot cut anything that your teeth cannot tear apart with ease.  It does not work as a spoon since one side is given over to tines and the other to an ineffective knife.  It does not work as a fork because the tines are so shallow you might as well use well chewed fingernails.

Nonetheless, we all love cutesy camping gear that promises to do more than one things or that folds down into a cylinder the size of a AAA battery even if the practicality of the item is in question.  Don’t believe me?  Try and actually use 90% of the multi-tools available, especially the ones you see in sponsored posts on Instagram.  Ugh.  A few decent screwdrivers, crescent wrench, pliers, and lockback knife are more useful without taking up considerably more space.

If you are serious about camping and are not a “go light” fanatic just get some actual utensils and actual dinnerware.  An enameled cup or two serve as great containers for any camp meal from eggs to fireside cobbler.

Simple Shower:


I honestly thought this was something that just got dropped in the box by mistake before I read the little card that explains everything.  No packaging, which is fine, but it was really not tied together at all.

However, this is actually something I might use.  Fill a two-liter bottle—clean it first you degenerates—with cold water and spray yourself down after a long day hiking.  With an attempt on a 14er coming up in a week or so I am going to pack the Simple Shower for when I make it back to the truck.

I now have two months or two boxes remaining on my gift subscription to Nomadik.  Unless the company “comes strong” with something fairly compelling in the next two months I can see no reason to actually spend my heard earned money on an extension of the subscription.

What’s in the Box: Nomadik April 2017

Sorry for getting this posted late, but life has a way of getting in the way of things.

Niteize CamJam:


In the interest of full disclosure, I already own a half dozen of these little things for various tasks like tying down items in the back of my truck or securing tarps.  Work like a champ, easy to tighten at 5 AM in the middle of Nebraska, and cheap enough that I do not care if I misplace one due to a hangover induced late start.  I keep them in the cavernous center console of my truck for this “it’s gonna’ happen sometime” events.

Mountainsmith tent stakes:


I do not camp, so the utility of tent stakes is somewhat limited.  That being said I do use tent stakes to secure coverings on outdoor projects with some frequency.  There might be some utility here after all.  Are tent stakes kind of like getting socks for Christmas?  Sure, we all need them at some time and we all appreciate a high quality rendition.

The PowerPractical LumiNoodle comes is one seriously over packaged piece of allegedly outdoors gear:


That is just the outer wrapper, a thick laminated foil like material similar to what is used for freeze dried camping meals, that opens to reveal the second layer:


Yep, it’s a bag in a wrapper that yields the LumiNoodle eventually:


Nomadik may tell me that the LumiNoodle is worth $20, but it is really worth nothing since it does not work without a battery pack.  Sure, a 25% off coupon was enclosed to purchase a battery pack from PowerPractical but I kind of feel like these items should be useful from the moment I open the box.  Call me critical.

A battery pack from PowerPractical runs approximately $30 ($22.50 after 25% off coupon) for 4400 mAh.  Significantly larger, in terms of power capacity, battery packs are available online from Amazon for the same price.  Seems a little odd to me.

Maybe I am just not hipster enough to use the LumiNoodle for Instagram.

The inclusion of a three month trial subscription to Reelhouse’s Slipstream leaves me the most conflicted.  Slipstream is a streaming collection of action sports films. There are some interesting films in the catalog, but aren’t we supposed to be encouraging people to get into the outdoors as opposed to watching the outdoors on a screen?

This month’s box was kind of a bust.

Stuff I Like: RumbleRoller Foam Roller

I have spent the past month or so really dialed in to getting prepared for the upcoming ski season.  At the ripe old age of 38 I did not want to be that guy on the slopes who goes hard his first day out and spends the next week walking around like his legs are welded at the knee.

The only downside to an intense focus on building a base of strength and explosive power around multi-part kettlebell movements and an array of core focused exercises is that I really feel it in my shoulders and hamstrings some mornings.  As it gets colder, I feel it a little more.

If I were a rich man, I would rely on the trained fingers of a masseuse to work deep into the affected tissue and knead the soreness away.  Alas, the closes I can get to a masseuse on a regular basis is begging my five year old son to pretend my back is a bed of hot coals and have him walk on me.  Not a pretty picture.

Instead, I turn to a RumbleRoller Foam Roller:

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The idea behind foam rolling is that it allows for myofascial release, which is a fancy way of saying applying gentle and sustained pressure to the connective tissue of one’s body for the purpose of relieving pain and/or restoring motion.  Evidence of efficacy is apparently lacking in the scientific or medical journal world, but anecdotal and personal evidence abounds.  I will tell you that I am a believer because I have seen and felt the impacts on my own body.

Using a RumbleRoller primarily on my upper back, shoulders, hamstrings, and calves has allowed me to recover quicker from resistance training.  Furthermore, it has helped to restore range of motion and reduce pain in a shoulder that has suffered from severe tendonitis.  I spend about five minutes, sometimes closer to ten, almost every night and it has made a world of difference as I trundle down the path of improved fitness.  A “nubbed” roller like the RumbleRoller is preferable, in my opinion, because the raised bumps have enough height and spacing to really dig into pressure or trigger points.

The RumbleRoller comes in two densities: Original and Extra Crispy…er, Extra Firm.  I own the Extra Firm version which may be a little aggressive for some users new to foam rolling or who have extremely sensitive deep tissue.  I love the Extra Firm version because I feel that it really digs into the deep tissue to get at lingering soreness from a long day on the slopes or in the saddle.

Now, you may find people online who claim that myofascial release is the stuff of quackery, akin to homeopathy.  This is not a treatment for all that ails you.  Any treatment that claims to be the cure all for a grab bag of ills is likely a false prophet of wellness.  However, for helping to relieve MSK pain and restore range of motion a tool like the RumbleRoller is a home run.

Note: I bought and paid for the RumbleRoller with my own funds and have received no compensation from RumbleRoller whatsoever.

Stuff I Like: Pacha Soap Dirty Hippie

I have a friend.  She has a particular sensitivity to a particular odor.  For some reason, perhaps childhood trauma, she cannot stand to be in the presence of patchouli.  Maybe a Volvo 240D wagon almost ran her over in middle school or something.  I do not know.  If she smells anything that contains even a trace of patchouli she will scowl and cry, “Hippie stench!”

Unfortunately for my friend, my new “go to” bar soap is Pacha Soap’s Dirty Hippie:


Some people can just use any old bar soap, but not me.  I am a soap snob.  A bar of Ivory just does not cut it.  I love wandering the soap bins at Lush and smelling soaps that almost want to be eaten the aromas are so powerful.  I love the smell of a particularly fragrant soap when it fills the shower after a workout.  It’s my thing.

Pacha Soap’s Dirty Hippie bar soap has the right amount of funky earth aroma—yes, to some people it would be considered hippie stench—and some exfoliation without feeling like 60 grit sandpaper running over your skin.

Maybe it is time that we embraced the term dirty hippie.  Is there anything wrong with playing or working in the dirt?  In this age of local, organic farming and kids suffering from nature deficit disorder the world could probably use a few more dirty hippies running around.

Pacha Soap runs a business model similar to Tom’s Shoes where buying a bar of soap is matched by the donation of a bar of soap to a community in need.  Soap may not seem like a big deal, but simple hygiene can make a huge difference in terms of public health.  The program is entitled “Raise the Bar” and beyond giving soap away it is creating jobs in African countries by involving local communities in the production of soap.  That whole give a man a fish, feed him for a day but teach a man to fish…you get the idea.  Like the slogan on the shirt says, “Dirty Hippie, Clean Purpose.”

About the only downside to Pacha Soap that comes to mind is that they use palm oil in the soap.  Sure, it’s Rainforest Alliance certified and organic but palm oil is a major driver of deforestation across the globe.  Over time I am hoping that the company goes palm oil free like some other soap brands have done recently.

NOTE: Pacha Soap paid me nothing nor did the company provide me with any soap.  I bought this product retail at New Pioneer Coop in Cedar Rapids.