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My mail doesn’t arrive one message at a time. It comes in piles. Think: avalanche. While I have recently hired an assistant (yay me, and welcome Suzanne), the piles remain deep and wide. But I have big plans and high hopes.

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I must have the most patient readers on earth, understanding, too, because while I read every single message, I am unable to reply personally. That’s why I look forward to Ask Me Anything day.

Today I reached in and pulled out these questions…

Barbara writes: We need a new vacuum that is lightweight and easy to carry. We have three flights of stairs in our townhouse and our current vac is super heavy and difficult to navigate—and it doesn’t do a very good job. My new vacuum needs to have attachments including a long wand to dust door frames, drapes and artwork. A bagless vacuum would be ideal. We have a dog and a cat, so cleaning pet hair is an almost daily requirement. My husband and I always read your hints for saving money and we’re confident you can point us in the right direction!

You won’t find a better vacuum than a Shark. I’ve tried just about every vacuum out there, so I say this with supreme confidence.

There are several Shark models available currently, and my recommendation for you is this Shark Navigator Upright Vacuum for Carpet and Hard Floor with Lift-Away for deep cleaning stairways and carpeted steps. But there’s more.

This model (NV352) comes complete with a pet hair tool, HEPA filter, and anti-allergy seal. The entire vacuum weighs in at 12.5 lbs. The Lift-Away part weighs significantly less, which will make cleaning all those steps quite effortless. It has attachments including the extendable wand you need and it’s bagless.

This Shark is a beauty and I believe will check off all of your requirements—at about $140.

I got my first Shark vacuum in 2012 (details and confession: So Disgusting I’m Embarrassed to Tell). Since then, I have purchased and tested no fewer than six different models of Shark vacuums.

Currently, I have two of this exact model in my home and a third at Cheapskate Central (my office). Love my Sharkies, and I’m confident you’re about to fall in love, too.

Deb needs to know: My husband has become a real fan of Creme Brûlée. Could you please recommend the best blow torch to buy for the brûlée part?

Here’s my pick: TorchMate Culinary Torch and  Lighter (about $25) with Zippo butane fuel (about $5.) Here’s why: This torch is fabulous for finishing Creme Brûlée (Alton Brown’s famous recipe here, by the way) but it is not just another single-use item to load up your kitchen utensil drawer.

This handy blow torch is powerful enough for starting campfires, coal BBQ, and light welding. It is perfect for soldering beautiful craft art jewelry. The possibilities are endless and quite possibly the reason mine—all on its own—keeps finding its way to my husband’s workshop. 

Patricia asks: What is the best meat thermometer?

I do have an opinion, which I’ll bet comes as no surprise to you. (My sons tell me I  can be overly opinionated, which surprises me, as I wasn’t aware of such a thing.)

There’s nothing like a history of buying the cheapest option that teaches one a valuable lesson: When it comes to food thermometers you want it to be at the intersection of Best and Inexpensive, which does not always mean cheapest. I have no idea how much I’ve spent on junk thermometers in my life, but it’s more than I want to think about. Oh, the chicken and pricey steaks I have managed to ruin.

When preparing food well, you need precise, instant, reliable temperatures. 

I’m sold on the ThermoWorks line of culinary thermometers. While the ThermoPop (so cute and comes in a bunch of colors) is not truly “instant-read” because it takes 3 to 4 seconds to return the temperature, it is quite useful and even more affordable at just $29. 

The Thermapen Mk4 is my top pick, however, because it is instant-read, reliable and professional quality. World-class chefs, as well as Cook’s Illustrated, give Thermapen Mk4 their top honors.

This may well be the very last food thermometer you will ever buy. It’s top-of-the-line, extremely reliable, durable and folds up to fit in a pocket, which is especially handy when grilling outdoors and $99 in your choice of colors.

Caution: We’ve been warned that many ThermoWorks products found at Amazon are fakes; knock-offs. Wisdom dictates to purchase ThermoWorks products directly from the manufacturer.

Hope that helps!


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