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(one of the two pairs of jeans I own with holes in the knees)

I love, love, love the idea of minimalism.

There are certain areas of my life where I might fall into the minimalist category:

shoes (I have maybe two or three pairs for winter and the same for summer)

clothes (my two pairs of jeans now have holes in the knees…do I need to replace them, or are they just “in style”?)

home decor (I don’t like things hanging out on the floor unless they are in bins)

The kitchen is NOT one of those categories.  While I have been culling my cooking gadgets and supplies for a while now (gone are three mixing bowls leaving me with five – huh?), I would never shun the perfect tool to make my life easier – or to support our goal of eating loads of veggies and fruits.  After all, the manual work to prep veggies and fruits takes more time than to open a bag so I want all the help I can get to make life easier, and food tastier (as well as save a buck or two on plastic baggies – you’ll see what I mean in a minute).

I present to you the five most revered small gadgets in my kitchen that I use regularly (daily?) – all under $25 each.

1.  Kyocera Adjustable Slicer – This tool is a gem.  It cuts fruits and veggies, almost effortlessly, in the most beautifully uniform way.  Sure, a knife works just as well, BUT I’d be hard pressed to find any home cook with average knife skills (i.e. me) who could cut fruits or veggies the same thickness so quickly.  This tool is a must for the dehydrator! The best part is that my kids love to eat veggies that are paper thin.  There is something fun about dipping discs of cukes, carrots, zucchini.

2.  Bag Dryer – In an effort to cut down, or eliminate, the purchase of any plastic and paper products in our house, I acquired this wooden bag dryer.  I’m not really a fan of plastic bags, but there are some circumstances that plastic bags just work better than anything else.  I store a LOT of produce in my fridge – more than the crisper can hold – so I use green produce bags to keep everything fresh (and, yes, they do work).  Not only can I dry my bags on this dryer, I can dry my Glass Dharma straws on it (the drinking hole is the perfect size to fit over the pegs) and also my portable stainless steel or glass drinking bottles.

3.  Mortar and Pestle* – We eat guacamole every day (seriously).  Although I have made guac using a bunch of ingredients (red onions, cilantro, etc) in my food processor (and I love this recipe), no method (that I have tried) can beat making it in a mortar and pestle (or molcajete).  The resulting texture of the guacamole, when made in the mortar and pestle, is so creamy and full of bright flavors.  I will post, soon, how we make guac in our mortar and pestle using just fresh garlic, sea salt, avocados and lime.  Truly divine.  This low-tech tool is something I wish I had added to my collection decades ago.  Next project – home made curry paste in the mortar and pestle!

4.  The Wide-Mouth Canning Funnel – I have learned to always cook extra for lunch the next day or to freeze for later meals on time-crunched days.  After getting messy one too many times trying to transfer my soups, granola and sauces into containers by pouring, I decided to grab one of these wide mouth canning funnels (I don’t even can – yet…).  This funnel saves time and messes.

5.  Crinkle Cut Knife – I know, another tool to chop veggies.  The beauty of this tool is that it’s a great way to involve your kids in kitchen tasks.  My daughter (age 6) uses this tool.  Not only does she have fun cutting the vegetables into the wavy pieces, but she is very excited to eat them!

Not listed here, but definitely on the list of small gadget favorites:  microplane grater, wooden citrus reamer, vegetable peeler, fish turner (perfect for pancakes or veggie burgers)…

Other things on my mind.  I hope everyone is loving this holiday season like we are.  We are listening to Aimee Mann and Sufjan Stevens every day, as well as the old Bing Crosby classics.

We made snowflakes this week (thanks Renee and family) and suspended them with some lights in our dining room.  So pretty and not so Christmas-like that we can’t leave them up the rest of the winter.  I prefer longevity in my decorations.  🙂

Oh, and for the cook in your life, I highly recommend The Vegan Slow Cooker Cookbook by Kathy Hester (for vegans and non-vegans).  This is the cookbook I have been looking for, for years.  Full of more contemporary flavorful recipes, I think I’m going to give my slow cooker a workout! I’m making the hot and sour soup tonight to go with our mu shu over udon noodles.  If any elves are reading, there are two other cookbooks on my wish list:  Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas and The New Fast Food by Jill Nussinow.

I’d love to hear from you:  what are your favorite small kitchen gadgets? How have they helped you save time and/or money?