RavenBlack Recommends...

Copy my taste in all things.

Full disclosure, I'm recommending these things partly in the hope that people will buy them via these links, and I'll get a referral commission. That said, I purchased these items for myself, still use them, and genuinely like and recommend the products. I would recommend them to my friends and feel good about it. I have recommended many of them to my friends.
Trimmer/Edger two-item combination ($100 for both)

This is a combo recommendation - I wouldn't recommend either of these items individually, but the pair together is great. First is the GreenWorks 21142 10Amp 18 Inch Straight Shaft Electric String Trimmer / Edger - an unusually high-powered plug-in grass trimmer, with power comparable to a gas-powered one. The problem I have with gas-powered trimmers is I don't use lawn maintenance equipment frequently enough to stop the gas from going bad, so after about a year the carburetor is clogged, the maintenance takes twice as long as I would even use the thing for and is generally expensive and/or unpleasant. An electric eliminates all these issues, but usually is underpowered - not this one. However, on the down side, the spool of wire that comes with the trimmer is horrible - it lasted about ten minutes and then was either jammed or empty and I struggled to even get it open to find out which.

Which brings us to the other item, Pivotrim Pro Pivot Design, Straight Shaft Grass Trimmers, which replaces the shoddy spooler (after about five minutes of trying to find the combination of screws from the various included adapter screws to make it fit this model). Once these two are together, I can do all the perimeters of our garden in one go, no bumping or messing with the spool. Replacing the wire takes about 30 seconds, it's super easy, and uses only a few inches of wire for an amount of trimming I'd expect to consume ten times that much wire with a regular spool. You don't have to buy the special replacement pivotrim wires, you can just cut regular .105-inch line into pieces of the appropriate length. The device mounts up to four pieces of wire; I use it with just two because it works fine that way.

Warning from experience: this is powerful enough to break brittle PVC pipe. So, y'know, don't do that, and also have your spouse not do it.

Tovolo Silicone Slotted Turner ($9)

The Tovolo 80-7921 Silicone Slotted Turner is exactly what I want from a turner/spatula/thing. Amazon's page didn't have much in the way of details, so when I ordered it I expected it to be too small, or too bendy, or something, but it turns out the only thing I would change about it if I could is to have a loop on the handle end for hanging it. Even that's not really necessary, I just put one of the slots over a hook and it hangs fine that way up.

I realize a turner isn't a very exciting item generally, but seriously, try to find a turner that isn't nylon (which starts to melt if you use it on hot cast iron) or metal (which scratches and damages any cook surface that isn't cast iron), and is also a sensible size and usable (ie. not just silicone throughout, which makes it unusably bendy). It takes quite a while to find one, and when you eventually do, it's this one.

There are three other turners in my house, but most of the time I'd rather wash this one than use one of the others that's already clean. (It's also very easy to wash!)

UPDATE: That one changed (or I got something different when I ordered a new one, since the pictures on the listing have not changed) and now has the hook on the end I wanted, but it's also smaller and bendier so it's overall inferior. In fact, it appears to be this one but with Tovolo written on the handle. Instead I would now recommend this one, which is slightly bendier than the original recommendation, but less bendy than the new one, slightly larger than either, and has a loop to hang by.

Cheap, functional straight razor ($14)

The Equinox Professional Straight Edge Razor is the perfect razor for a cheapskate who doesn't like to shave frequently. Electric razors are painful and horrible if you've got a few days' growth, and the replacement heads for electric razors often cost more than the razor itself. Four bladed cartridge razors are just awful by every measure. Double edge safety razors can be pretty great, but I find with medium growth they can clog up frustratingly. Enter the straight razor, nothing to clog, blades cost about a penny, and you get to feel like a manly man using it (assuming you're a man - I have no experience in whether shaving with a straight razor makes a woman feel like a manly woman or a womanly woman or has no impact on her genderly feelings. If you're any kind of non-man and you try a straight razor let me know how it feels).

It may not be quite as manly as using a real one-blade antique-style straight razor, with a strop and all the other sharpening gear, but if you get one of those at this price it needs about $60 worth of sharpening before it's usable, plus the sharpening gear and effort. I tried going that route, it didn't work for me.

Comes with 100 blades. Derby blades aren't the best, but they're adequate. I only replace the blades when the previous blade is feeling clunky; I've been using this for a year and am about a third of the way through the free blades. (Note that 100 blades here is equivalent to 50 blades for a double-edge, because these blades only have one edge. You can buy double-edge blades and snap them in half to use with this handle.)

Delicious hot sauce ($11, or occasionally $5!)

Melinda's Naga Jolokia Hot Sauce is not cheap at about $11 for a 5 oz bottle, but it is the single tastiest hot sauce I've ever had. You won't want this if you don't like your food very spicy, but it's also not one of those "hottest hot sauce ever, tastes like a spicy garbage fire" kinds of things. It's got a balanced, nuanced set of flavors. The price is well worth it because you can add approximately two drops of this to a bowl of stew or whatever, and it'll do the job. You won't want to dip things in the sauce directly, that's too much.

I went to a hot sauce boutique and tried at least ten of their most recommended hot-end hot sauces, and this was a hands down, no question winner. Until I tried this one I was going to buy two other bottles that were competing for best, but this one was so much better that it actively undid those sales and I bought only one instead. Sorry pepper shop!

(At time of writing, this appears to be half price direct from Amazon in the side bar. Snap that offer up! We already have four bottles from last time we saw it on sale.)

Cheap Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner ($13)

The Veepeak Mini Bluetooth OBD2 Scanner works great in conjunction with Torque Lite (free app) for Android, I'm not sure what app you'd use with an iPhone. If you have a mysterious check engine light on your dashboard, and you hate going to a mechanic without an idea what the problem is, $13 and five minutes of mucking about will give you useful information (assuming your vehicle is from a time when OBD2 works).

Armed with this information I was able to take our car to a dealership instead of a mechanic, and get it fixed free, as it turned out the problem in question was related to a recall. I'm pretty confident that if I'd gone to a mechanic (or the dealership for that matter!) with no information in hand, I'd have been stuck with a bill. Even if that would have worked out for free, the peace of mind of knowing what's up is certainly worth $13 if you're competent enough to make sense of it.

Along similar lines, if you feel competent to diagnose your own electrical equipment, this inexpensive multimeter is great. I bought it in 2011, and use it only rarely; it hasn't even drained the batteries I originally put in it and have not removed.

Micro-USB rechargeable batteries ($13 for 4)

These rechargeable batteries are a bit of a niche product I suppose. But if, like me, you own a good quality battery charger and have no idea where it is, and a bunch of rechargeable batteries that you can't use because you don't know where the charger is, and you know yourself well enough to know that you'll basically never be able to find the charger and if you buy a new one you'll lose that too, and if you have something that consumes battery power a lot so using non-rechargeable is a horrible idea, then these are something you might want.

These AA or AAA rechargeable batteries have their own charger built in. As a consequence, the capacity is less than that of a regular rechargeable battery, and the price is higher, but the convenience of charging it using a regular micro USB connector may well be worth it.

Buckwheat-hull pillow ($40)

This buckwheat-hull pillow is the best pillow I've ever had. It is far and away the best at not getting hot - I never wake up having to flip or fold it. It also doesn't get flat (I've had mine for 20 months and have performed zero maintenance on it). And it's comfortable. The one down side is it's a bit noisy when you adjust it, so if you have a partner who's a very light sleeper they might find it annoying.

I like this pillow so much that I'm occasionally tempted to try to get myself a buckwheat hull mattress. But that always seems like a lot more effort.

Hand-cranked food processor ($20)

The Hand-cranked food processor sounds like a terrible gimmick thing; it's even an "as seen on TV" product. But it's actually a pretty great piece of equipment. If you've ever owned a regular electric food processor, you know how they're a pain in the ass to clean, heavy, take up a lot of space. If you don't leave it plugged in, you have to mess with a socket to use it.

So then there's this. Since the blade is spun from above (rather than below as in a regular food processor) there's no narrow tubes to clean, fewer parts. No heavy base, in place of that is the lightweight plastic handle. Obviously the hand cranking is the price you pay for this; I find 15 turns typically chops things as small as I want them, which is less effort than lifting an electric food processor base once. If you want stuff turned to paste, a regular food processor is better at that, or you can do what we do and use a blender for pasting things.

Being honest though, I'm not sure I'd recommend this specific hand-cranked food processor over other ones. While it lasted I liked it better than the one I now have (it cleans easier and chops more evenly), but the handle's internal design is flawed and will probably break if you strain it trying to chop something tough like sweet potatoes. I do still recommend it, and if you keep that limitation in mind it will probably last alright - mine lasted nearly two years even with sometimes chopping harder things. And the price is very reasonable. I'd offer my new one for comparison, but I don't know what kind it is.

(The new one's handle broke, and was repairable by pouring some epoxy into the weak point - there were no moving parts in the breakable area, and it had no reason to be detachable there other than for shipping - the glue solution has given it at least another year of functioning life.)

Casper mattress ($950 queen, $1150 king, before $50 discount)

The Casper mattress (NB. this link, unlike the image, goes to Casper's own site with a $50 off coupon; I get a credit too. The coupon makes it beat Amazon's price) is working great for us. I like a very firm mattress that doesn't hold heat, my wife likes a much softer mattress and doesn't care about heat, but somehow we're both comfortable with the Casper.

That said, based on specs the GhostBed seems like it would have very similar characteristics, and is an inch thicker - if we'd known about that one at the time we might have gone that way. But I can't recommend that one from experience, because I don't have one.

Both offer a risk-free trial period where you don't even pay shipping and some charity ends up with the mattress if you don't want to keep it. Both probably deliver using UPS which is just an awful experience. Our UPS person must have tiptoed up the stairs to silently ninja a note onto our door, and to be honest I can't blame them because after I went and picked it up from the UPS hub, hefting an unwieldy 85lb box up a flight of stairs is definitely not a fun time.

Once it was on the bed though, it was nice to be able to lie down so comfortably and wait for my spine to grow back.

Send me mail : raven@ravenblack.net