My First Stab at the Kale Stemmer

Last year I decided to put what little money I had where my mouth is and try to actually make one of my crazy ideas a reality.  In the next three posts I describe the trials and tribulations of my first product creation attempt, and how the Kale Stemmer never came to be.  Or at least, not yet.

My favorite breakfast–and by favorite I mean I’ve cooked this for myself five days out of the week for the last year–is eggs and greens.  I sauté some onions and peppers, fry an egg on top, and then steam kale/chard/collards/spinach on top of that.  It’s delicious and nutritious, so when I’m a fatty the rest of the day, I can trick myself into feeling good about my eating habits.  The point of all of this is, I eat a lot of kale.

Kale, for those of you familiar with the leafy vegetable, has an almost inedible woody stem growing right up the middle.  It doesn’t taste very good and makes you fart all day if you eat it.  Most people get around this by using chopped up Tuscan or Dino kale, which has the most digestibly negotiable stem.  I’m OCD about it, so I end up spending a half hour slicing the stem out of every single leaf of kale before I chop it up.

My desire to make this process less of a time suck is how I decided to invent the kale stemmer!  Supporting arguments being: it was the most approachable idea to create, i.e. it didn’t require crazy engineering skills I couldn’t wrap my brain around; and more importantly, it’s a silly kitchen tool that only does one thing.  What do American’s like buying more than silly kitchen tools that only do one thing?  How many stores devote entire sections to silly, one-function tools?  And with kale’s popularity on the rise, I was potentially sitting on a goldmine.

Having finally decided on what I wanted to create, now I had to go about actually doing it.  Which proved a little daunting only because I had no idea what I was doing.  I started with what I knew how to do, which was to physically mock something up with similar materials available to me.  I headed over to SCRAP (Scrounger’s Center for Reusable Art Parts), one of my favorite resources in all of SF.  If you do not know of this place, you need to check it out!  It’s hidden away in the industrial triangle part of the Bayview, but you will not be sorry when you finally find it.  After digging around for an hour I found what I figured would do the trick.  By the end of the day, I came up with this:

Kale Stemmer version 1
Kale Stemmer, version 1

You can see from my very first mock up, that I possess the crafting skills of a second grader.  You can also get an idea for the form I was going for.  Two knife blades that can be manipulated like tweezers to adjust to the width of the stem.  In this case I glued two razor blades onto a metal frame and covered it with leather to make it look “nice”.  The problem with this model is I was looking for a metal that would be pliable in order to manipulate it to the shape I desired.  However, what I should have looked for is a firmer material with more shape memory, since this one does not spring back to it’s original shape.  The goal was for the tool to work like tweezers, where you squeeze the blades together and follow the shape of the stem.  That way you can cut out all types of stem shapes and sizes.

After completing my first mock up, I stared at it for about a week.  Now I had a visual for when I explained what my idea was to people, but it wasn’t exactly something I was proud of.  I knew I had to make it more professional looking.  My problem was I kept thinking that it had to be stainless steel, since that was the material I ultimately wanted it to be made out of.  I sunk hours of research into the properties of the material, how I could get my hands on it, how to work with it.  I made a trip to the Crucible to speak with a craftsman there about how to mock up my tool, which ended up being even more daunting since he went on and on about crafting a fine, chef’s quality knife–which was not what I was looking for at all.  I needed it to be simple and cheap, something that could be machine made.

Progress sputtered to a standstill: I had come to my first road block.  I couldn’t get past this barrier because I didn’t know how to manipulate stainless steel and I didn’t have the money to pay somebody who could.  Luckily I have a friend who is going through the same process with his own inventions, so I set up a meeting and picked his brain.  He told me not to get hung up on the manufacturing process before I even have a tool to create.

How could I have been so dense?  How many countless articles had I read about “attacking a problem from all angles” and “pivoting” and all of those other Google keyword catch phrases entrepreneurs love to throw around.  And yet here I was, stuck on my first problem, and my solution was to continue to bang my head on the wall when really, I only had to walk around to the other side and open the door.

Thankfully I did one thing right in talking with my friend.  He was able to turn my problem around for me.  Now that I had found the door, I could walk through and start the next phase: successive iterating.

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Eva: the World’s First Smart Shower

YOU GUYS! Someone made it! I wrote about it, and then they made it!! It’s like magic! The internet is magic!

Back in March I wrote about how someone should build a smart shower that would help me save water and time.  Lo and behold, my plea has been answered!  I just discovered Eva on Indiegogo!

It’s everything I could have ever wanted and so much more!  Temperature control, a timer, plus all kinds of things I’ll probably never figure out or use!  That’s not true, I’ll totally track my water usage per shower.  (Maybe I can hold competitions with the roomies to see who pays the water bill….)  Frankly I was just too excited to read past those two features, everything else was eyeball clutter after that.  Just watch the video and see what it does!  It’s magical!!

Everyone should own this technology, especially if you live in California.  You can support them on Indiegogo and be one of the first people to own one–just like me!  Please help fund them so I can play with my new toy!

The Perfect Shower

All of this writing about water conservation has made me wonder about what other measures cities in arid regions have done to solve their problems.  For instance, Israel built a desalination plant.  Which is really their only option, considering their geo-political circumstances.  If you want to spend billions of dollars the state does not have, and would like your water bill to increase 200%, then by all means, jump on board the de-sal band wagon.

Australia is still dealing with a drought so widespread and for so long, that people are just starting to thinking of it as the new normal.  It’s sobering to read how bad things have to get before people start to take serious action.

Which bummed me out, so I tried to think about what we could do that hasn’t already been done somewhere.  One of my greatest pet peeves is running water for no apparent reason.  We could all blame the people who do not turn off the faucet when they brush their teeth, but the bigger culprit is running water to wait for it be hot or cold.  Wouldn’t it be great if each tap had their own tankless heater?  (Which, by the way already exist, even if they need a little bit more time before really perfected.) Then you could have automated faucets like those installed in public restrooms!  You would only turn on the water when you need it, it would stop automatically and it would be instantly hot.

Then I was reminded of the biggest water saving rule I’m consistently guilty of breaking: the long shower.  I admit it, I can’t help it . . . especially if I have to wash my hair.  (If you saw how little hair I have, you would realize how ridiculous this is.)  For some reason a shower is my personal black hole I slip into.  Even when I try to be conscious of what I’m doing, I still end up taking a long time.  Not to mention it’s a big hassle turn the water off and on again in between rinsing.  Once I finally get the water to the correct temperature, I have to turn it off, only to do it ALL over again!  There’s no picking up where I left off with my shower, it’s like a first date every time.

However, that could ALL change if I could set the how long the water would be on for AND the temperature it came out at.  (I live in an old building spliced into three different apartments that all share one water heater, so this my wet dream if you will.  Pun totally intended.)  No more hot/cold dancing in and out of the water.  No running the water for minutes until it’s hot, and then over correcting so it is not scalding; and no more mindless standing beneath water that has finally reached the perfect temperature for what has it been now?  Ten minutes?  I should probably start to wash something.

All would be storied past!  I could set the temp of the water, set a timer for four minutes, hop in and forget about it!  When the water shuts off, I know it’s time to shampoo.  Then hit the “on button” again to rinse and repeat.  I’ve just saved 2/3rd’s of the water I would normally use the in shower without having to sacrifice experience!  Now if I could only figure out a low-water solution for baths…

Risotto Machine

For anyone that has ever cooked risotto, you will know why this is important.  This is a dish I normally save for restaurants, since I’m too lazy to lock myself away in the kitchen, and chain myself to the stove for about an hour.  Unfortunately even when ordering out, this dish can taste rushed.  (I’m sure restaurants don’t have an hour to wait around either.)

The idea came to me when my mother bequeathed her old Kitchen Aid mixer to me after we bought her a shiny brand new one for Christmas.  The old one still works pretty well, a lot better than mixing by hand anyhow.  The only problem is, I don’t really bake.  I have a ferocious sweet tooth and I know that whatever I bake will immediately go into my mouth, and subsequently onto my thighs.  No moderation, no sharing; just uninhibited, roman-style bingeing until I want to puke up all the cookies I so feverishly stuffed down my throat.  So, it’s better just to avoid that entire scenario altogether.

So what do I do with it?  It’s too big to just sit around and take up space, especially if real estate is at a premium.  It’s too useful to not use, I just had to figure out what else it’s useful for.

I was thinking about the mechanical spinning arm, and different uses one might have for it, when it struck me: a consistent and constant stirring motion is exactly what you need to make a perfect, tender, creamy risotto!

In case you’ve never made risotto before, let me explain.  Cooking risotto requires both physical strength and mental determination.  One wonders how the stunted, old-world nona’s of yesteryear could have possibly put up with this torture.  I’m sure having the pleasure of lauding it over their children to guilt them into staying with their mother had a lot to do with it, which I guess is why in these modern times does not seem like motivation enough.

There are two deceivingly large roads that will lead you to stray off the narrow path to perfection.  The first is: you stop stirring.  At worst, this means the rice bakes on the bottom, and you’re now making a casserole; at best, you lose the creaminess you’ve worked so hard for and everyone else wonders why it took you so long to make Hamburger Helper.  If stirring for an hour sounds like a good excuse to have a love fest with your guns, then you have to be careful of growing impatient and deciding it’s “good enough” because you can’t take another ten to fifteen minutes of staring at your spoon go around… and around… and around….  Which ultimately means you’ll have to muscle through dinner eating underdone rice–under dente?–washing it down with a large glass of self-loathing, knowing that arborio rice got the better of you… again.

What you need is a mechanical arm to the hard labor for you!  Hello, industrial revolution!  And with a Kitchen Aid mixer, you can set the pace to “slow” and just check up on it every ten minutes or so when you need to add broth!  Unless “broth” was just code for “tears of agony” in which case, you can always substitute by chopping an onion and leaning your head over the pan.  Or thinking about how you put poor nona up in a rest home–after everything she did for you!  (You can get creative here.)

All this means I have to figure out how to attach a hot plate to the bottom of the mixer.  Voila!  Risotto machine!  Kitchen Aid, if you’re reading this (ha ha…) please make a hot plate attachment for the stand.  Otherwise, I will be forced to take electrical matters into my own hands.

PS: if there is no post next week, it means I unsuccessfully soldered a hot plate to the mixer and burnt the kitchen down in the process, and am now definitely homeless and possibly dead.  Keep me in your prayers.

Smart Coffee Table

You’ve probably read at least one article about the smart tables that look like tablets on steroids, on stilts; which is an admirable first stab at everyware.  Most people seem to think that the natural evolution of furniture will be to have some sort of computer in it, in order to track you and provide better service for you.  However, I’m a firm believer that less is more.  Why does a smart table have to do EVERYTHING?  What if my living room decor isn’t inspired by StarTrek TNG?  A good friend of mine had a much simpler idea of what a smart coffee table should be.

The other day, he found himself engrossed in an interesting coffee table book at a friends apartment.  While he enjoyed flipping through it, the idea of having a physical book sit around for other’s enjoyment is still repulsive to him.  (A little bit of background, he lives in a 12×12 hole-in-the-wall, and is an aspiring Zen master.  He’s currently in the process of ridding himself of all books, starting with ones that have been digitized.)  The perfect scenario for him would be to have a coffee table that he could download books into.  A library of sorts, where he, as well as friends and visitors could read books he had in his library.

To play devil’s advocate for a second–I would be remiss if I did not point out that the book he was enjoying at his buddy’s place was a large book full of beautiful pictures.  Not something that transfers well to a kindle or phone.  Tablet would be the best choice of three evils.  Though still not ideal for the true art lover.  Maybe this is where the StarTrek table comes in?

I immediately thought of the dentists office.  You check in, and have about a ten minute wait before you’re called.  Nowadays most people busy themselves with their smartphone.  Otherwise you’d have your choice of a handful of old National Geographic’s and couple other outdated magazines don’t pertain to you in any way, shape or form.  Imagine instead, an attractive table with only a dock you could touch your phone/tablet/kindle to and temporarily upload the local newspaper… or the latest edition of whatever magazine… or several articles about the importance of gum health.  After 30 mins, whatever you downloaded disappears.  (Hopefully you’re called by then.)

I imagine this product is redundant for those people who have a tablet for every room, carry a mini on their person at all times with several subscriptions to various publications on it.  I don’t own a tablet because–let’s face it–I’m a woman and don’t spend 20 minutes on the pot.  I don’t subscribe to magazines because the only time I really read them is when I’m in a waiting room or at the salon.

I appreciate good design and aesthetically pleasing furniture.  You could not get me to buy an ugly table no matter how smart it is.  I would appreciate a pleasant waiting room and an up-to-date, relevant article I could read on my phone or kindle to pass the time.  I would also appreciate a table that acted as a library I could store all of my books on.  I would become a Zen master as well, and download digital copies of all if not most of my books.  I could be rid of those heavy shelves that house heavy books!  A table, that looks like a table, yet still improves my life not by doing everything, but by doing one thing well.