Maggie Koerth, FiveThirtyEight Sr. Science Reporter
Cool Tools Show 226: Maggie Koerth
I have been trapped in my house, as everyone has been trapped in their house, and trying not to go to the grocery store very often. But when I did the last time, I ran across this tube of fresh basil that’s chopped up into a paste with a little bit of oil. It doesn’t have any flavoring. It’s kind of like a pesto but without all of the other stuff that you would put into a pesto and it’s pretty fantastic because it means I can get fresh-tasting herbs all through my quarantine without having them go bad on me. I have been using it to make cream sauce. I also used it in a cocktail that I invented one night by taking a bunch of strawberries that my kids had not eaten and dicing them up really fine and putting some of this squeezy basil toothpaste on top of it, and then muddling that up with some brown sugar and a little bit of apple cider vinegar and then tossing some bourbon on top of all of it. The basil has to stay refrigerated but it’s good for up to a month or more. I’ve had one of them now for like the entire time I have been trapped in my house and it’s been still really good and lasting and it’s fantastic.
JBL Pulse 3 Wireless Waterproof Speaker ($220)
This is a thing that several people in my life have and I’ve been sort of admiring but hadn’t picked up one until, again, quarantine happened. And suddenly, I really wanted better sound in my apartment and decided to just go ahead and grab it. You can program it to do different kinds of LED patterns and colors and custom colors. I’m using it a lot right now for my daughters. They like to listen to a meditation tape type of thing at night before they go to bed and they really love having this multicolored rainbow light show happening while they’re lying in their beds all tucked in with the lights off. It’s pretty great and the sound quality is excellent. And like a Bluetooth speaker, I can move it all over the house. And that’s the other thing that makes it really great for the girls is that they can hear their meditation tape that’s playing off of my phone, but I can have my phone with me in a different room. I don’t have to just completely give it over to them for an hour. It’s a really nice little setup.
Smoked Garlic Powder ($3) (Recipe to make your own)
This is smoked garlic powder that I had never really seen before, and sort of bought on a whim just to play around with and have something fun during quarantine. It has turned out to be really, really delicious. Last night, I used it on Brussels sprouts. My oldest daughter has been using it on toast with butter and garlic and honey. And it has this really, really fantastic sort of hickory thing happening that’s very, very about the smell and changes the taste not a ton, but it’s just nice and mellow garlicky goodness. I looked up and found places you can buy it online and there are recipes where you can make your own if you have the right kind of grill. And it seems like it’s actually pretty easy to just put together at home. I might end up trying to do that myself at some point.
VTech KidiZoom Digital Camera ($40)
This is a weird one. I did not expect when I got these that I was going to like them very much. This is something that my mom got for my daughters at Christmas and I was at first just kind of like, “Seriously, really, we’re doing digital cameras. Okay.” But as the girls have played with them, I found all these really interesting little features that this camera has and one of the things they just figured out that it can do is make stop motion animation. It has a setting where they can go in and take a bunch of pictures and move a toy across the table and then, the camera will automatically stitch them together into a little video with music. It has a little screen on the back where you can see the pictures that you’re taking. It’s not like the world’s greatest camera as you might guess. But you can see sort of how you could line up the shots and kind of get them all together. The girls really like to take pictures of people and then add these little animations and stickers on them. There’s a whole bunch of photos of me with flowerpots on my face. They’ve been taking them with us on walks and taking pictures of trees and puddles in the alley and it’s pretty delightful. It’s got a tiny little SD card in there. And you can just plug into your computer and you can download stuff directly from it on to the computer. It runs on batteries, but they’ve been using it a ton and I haven’t had to change the batteries since Christmas. It lasts a decent amount of time. It’s also really sturdy, my youngest daughter is four and the number of times she has dropped this thing is just astronomical. And it has yet to have anything bad happen to it.