YETI M20 Soft Cooler: I first cast my eyes on something like this during a trip to Lake Tahoe on a hike where this man was walking past me with the cooler on his back in backpack form. I never knew anything like this existed, and yet, it seemed so reasonable to be able to carry your food and keep it cold without lugging it in your arms. Soon, I craved this product all season, and when we road tested the YETI backpack cooler, it did not disappoint. This $325, 5 lb. model comes in fun colors such as Barney purple, lemon yellow, and sea turtle turquoise. Besides its cuteness, the model maintains the chill. For instance, on a recent trip to Mendocino, we did the unthinkable: we took a partial gallon of ice cream from our condo to enjoy on the way home. After packing it in the M20 with ice cubes in a plastic bag, after two hours on the road, our java chip was still cold and scoopable in 100-degree weather.
This backpack cooler (18.8 inches high, 18.5 inches wide, 9 inches deep) is practical in so many ways. The thermal materials on the walls and base are thick and can be cooled ahead of time when you shove the bag in the fridge. Strong magnetic enclosures allow you to pop it open or closed while a pair of buckles on the outside ensure the seal. A dozen loops in the back and sides allows you to tie or hook things onto it using a carabiner.
The padded shoulder straps gives comfort especially when you are hiking for more than an hour. Who wants bloodied, cut shoulder blades? Not me. The solid flexible backing makes sure you don’t feel the cold seeping through to touch your back. Side handles allow you to grap it easily or carry it into the wilderness with a buddy holding the other side. And once you get to your destination, the whole unit can stand on its own without toppling over. And get this, the cooler is mildew-proof! While $325 sounds like a lot for a cooler, it will probably outlast your lifetime and also consider this three-year warranty, so you have nothing to lose. See www.yeti.com for details.
Stuff for the suitcase
Doctor Plotka’s Mouthwatchers: Billed as the best brush ever, the Plotka’s toothbrush ($7) features silver infused bristles that are said to eliminate 99 percent of bacteria, viruses, and fungi on the brush within six hours after usage. A travel version is available that folds in half. The product is also designed in conjunction with its newly released whitening toothpaste ($7) that has the taste of fresh mint to help freshen breath. Unique here is the use of organic propolis, a honeybee product known of antimicrobial properties to aid in reducing cavities. Ingridients come from France, according to the product description. See for www.mouthwashers.com for details and purchasing.
Secret Monterey: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure: Published by Reedy Press, this $22.50 paperback by David Laws is truly weird, wonderful, and obscure. Laws is a travel writer, author, and historian, and he lives in Pacific Grove, so he knows what he is talking about. At least, I hope so.
If you thought you knew Monterey, test your knowledge by buying this 200-page gem that reveals secret gardens, ancient redwoods, and ugly cars. Laws has taken a destination such as the historic and often-written-about Monterey, and he has turned it inside out. You know how when you clean out your purse and you turn it upside down and shake it, and all this flotsam comes spilling out that you never knew was in there in the first place? This is my analogy to this book. Laws shakes up the town and turns it upside down.
This is an easy, breezy read, and one that would be a perfect gift for those who are travelling to Monterey or even live in the area. Super useful, the 84 vignettes of little-known facets of the region are lined with photos, addresses, and websites. For me, I love the quirky history bits about zombie worms, decapitations, and more. That’s just me. To get the geeky lowdown, log onto www.reedypress.com.
Tuscan Women Cook: Nonnas. Memories. Recipes. Coleen Kirnan and Rhonda Vilardo are two Southern Californians who have assembled more than 50 recipes culled from their weeklong adult cooking classes in Montefollonico, in the rolling hills of Tuscany. So to enjoy this $35 homage to Italian tastebuds, you absolutely must read, inhale, and consume every page to understand the united heartbeat of Coleen and Rhonda. The backstory: the two friends purchased the Tuscan Women Cook culinary immersion program in 2016 from the original founders, Bill and Patty Sutherland. From there, they forged relationships with local grandmas or nonnas who teach and divulge cooking techniques that make just that difference between a good dish and one where your friends laud, “This is great. Can I have this recipe?.
The current cooking classes run more than $5,000 per person which includes lodging. So, if you can’t spend 5K, buy the book and go on an imaginary taste journey. Each recipe comes with a one-paragraph descriptor which adds detail concerning the context of the dish, where it came from, and how it is consumed by the locals whether it be a comfort food or a celebratory entree. These textural stories add to the richness of what you are cooking, and you feel a link to the nonnas of yesteryear.
Further, what I find refreshing about this 135-page, large format cookbook is that there are simple recipes that are do-able with kitchen staples. Who needs a recipe that takes days to prepare with arcane ingredients never to be used again? Take, for instance, the easy honey tea recipe that calls for just hot water, honey, and tea. Love it. Then there’s the more complex stuffed zucchini flowers in tomato sauce that I will bookmark for later application. I look forward to making handmade gnocchi which, after eyeballing the instructions, does not look too hard. All I have to do is buy a ricer.
And then the instructions and photos for tiramisu and strawberry tiramisu already have me salivating. Weep after a fab Italian meal but were too chicken to tackle this cuisine in house? Tuscan Women Cook means you, yes you, novice chef, can pull pasta like an Italian nonna. Get your apron dirty on www.tuscanwomencook.com .
Fabulous Modern Cookies by Chris Taylor and Paul Arguin: Authors Taylor and Arguin possess sweet tooth cookie memories of their growing up days, and today, the duo share their favorite recipes with us, cookie lovers of all ages and stages. Sitting here on my couch, I am lusting after viewing photos and reading their recipes such as: whiskey-lemon sweet potato squares, mango sunshine bars with pureed mango and condensed milk, and pumpkin snickercrinkles. In this 360-page tome, they also have a section on savory cookies such as frito pie cheese coins and cucumber cheesecake everything bagel bars. And hey, we all love to bring special treats with us when we go in the car or fly on airplanes. Compared to buying stuff at the airport, brining homemade goods to consumer later gives us real comfort. This $25 cookie treatise published by The Countryman Press is a great gift item you can hide under the tree for your favorite baker. See www.countrymanpress.com.
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