Physics in the kitchen – our induction stove and other appliances

Our kitchen is finished.  And it’s awesome.  And a lot of that awesome is our induction range!

Before and after:

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Yes, it looks much cooler, but it is also way more practical.  A big part of that is the appliances that we bought.  We actually had to buy these before the cabinets.  Although we ordered fairly standard-sized appliances anyway, the cabinets have to fit around them.  Our priorities were:

  1. Saving energy (more of that whole I-lived-in Berkeley)
  2. Increasing cooking speed (we weren’t sure this was actually possible with appliances.  Spoiler: it is.)
  3. Fitting a turkey in the oven come Thanksgiving.
  4. Supporting American companies when possible.

Our most exciting appliance purchase was our GE induction range.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the range, this post would be a waste of time.  Induction cooking is really fun: instead of applying thermal energy (aka heat), the stove has AC current in a coil below a ferromagnetic (think iron, steel NOT copper) pot.  Through induction, the magnetic pot begins to have eddy (or swirling) currents within the sides, which heat up the pot.  The stove itself only heats up because it is in contact with the pot.  While I like physics, equations have never been my thing so we will stop here before the math…sorry Maxwell.  Induction stoves used to be very expensive but have gotten much cheaper over the last few years.

photo 4There she is – right in the middle!  Note that a glass top electric range looks pretty much the same from this angle.

This induction stove means FAST cooking – this I can say firsthand.  It now takes us literally 2 minutes to boil a dutch oven full of water for pasta.  This cuts off at least 10 minutes from dinner if we are boiling anything!  In terms of energy efficiency, induction stoves are even more responsive than gas, but over twice as energy efficient (government’s evaluation here) coming in at 84% vs. 40% for gas.  I have had no problems getting high enough heat for stir frying.   It was also convenient that we didn’t have to plumb gas into our kitchen (previously an electric stove).

It is much more difficult to burn hands on the stove since the surface itself barely gets hot.  I actually moved a boiling pot off of the surface to see how hot is is.  I can actually touch the surface quickly without burning myself within 5 seconds of moving the pot.  That said, I still wouldn’t want to sit on it or anything at this point.

All of our pots worked except for one cheap saucepan and two Calphalon non-stick frying pans.  We didn’t have any copper, aluminum or ceramic pots.  Most interestingly though was that a cheap $20 stockpot from Target in 2007 works just fine.  All-clad and Rachel Ray non-stick pans (and likely others, but these are the replacements we bought) work great with the stove.  The trick is to look for heavy stainless steel bottoms.  Cast iron is maybe the best choice of all, but I cannot tell a difference in heating rates between all of these pots.

Finally there is space for three racks inside of the range oven – plenty of room for a turkey and side dishes!  Our range fulfilled all 4 conditions of appliance shopping.

After picking the range, we kind of went with the flow (GE profile series) for the rest of the appliances.   I report about them here, but we were pretty ambivalent in comparison to the range.  Like I mentioned before, the microwave range hood power is a little low (although I think all microwave hoods are), but we would buy it again because our kitchen is so small.  The refrigerator is counter depth, again because of our tiny kitchen.  French doors with freezer below seem to be all the rage these days…so far so good.  The ice dispenser seems very sophisticated.  The previous side-by-side fridge was annoying since we couldn’t fit a casserole dish in it very well.  Our dishwasher is a Bosch because the nice lady at the local appliance store said it was less likely to break…  This sounded like a good reason to change up brands.  It’s actually so quiet that it has a little red light to prove that it is a running.

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Faucet, sink and dishwasher.  The sink seems twice as deep as the old 1950’s sink!  That banana hook is pretty cool too.  And yes, we have a vent cover now.

We also needed a faucet and a sink.  My father (hi dad), who has replaced more than his fair share of faucets, recommends Moen or Delta.  There are a ton of faucet options, but Moen, Groehe and Hans Groehe were the recommended faucet brands by the fancy faucet store that our contractor sent us to (in the end, we bought from Amazon).  Of these three, Moen is made in the US – there is a nice list of American-made faucets here.  Interestingly, Moen and some other brands seems to have big-box store models and order-only models.  Sometimes the big box store models are made in China and sometimes they aren’t – just something to consider.  After our rather sketchy experience with Delta, we opted for a Moen kitchen faucet as well, namely the pull-out Moen Arbor.  We like the pull out feature for easy rinsing.  In CA, it is actually law that new faucets must be low flow – without the sprayer head, I don’t think we could actually get enough water flowing to rinse off dishes.  With the sprayer head, it seems to work great.

The sink is a Franke sink, which we did buy from the fancy faucet store.  We learned that cheap sinks kind of echo when you hit them, but this sink sounds nice and sturdy.  Shopping for sinks is similar to shopping for watermelons but it seems that a good sink sounds like an underripe melon.  We like having a big, deep, under counter sink to fit everything  (no more holding baking pans at weird angles to clean them off!).  We also got a sink that holds a wire shelf.  I like to use it to set the pasta strainer on it.

Buy induction!  It’s awesome.  For the first time in our kitchen, watched pots do boil.


Our kitchen!

Drum roll please….

The last update I gave on the kitchen was shortly after the backplash was put in.  At that point, the kitchen looked like this:

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Our appliances were in, but they didn’t all work yet and we had no faucet or plumbing.  The lights were installed the day after the tile.  The window sill is still missing in the back.

As of three weeks ago, we were moved back in and functioning, but still getting construction dust.  As of last Thursday, the city inspector came for the final inspection…and he will be back after we had to sign a form promising that our water fixtures are low flow.  Ah, California.

We started planning the process in mid-November.  We ordered cabinets 4 days before Christmas.  Our kitchen was torn apart January 22.  We moved our stuff back in March 20.  We started cooking later that week.  After that, a few odds and ends have had to be cleaned up (like the missing vent cover in the photo below or a non-functioning electrical outlet). And our final inspection was April 3.  4 months total, but two months out of commission.

So here we are, the before:

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You can’t tell below, but we got a new door too.  The opening was a door door, which is against local code.

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And the after!

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photo 4 photo 3

And with lights:

photo 1

The kitchen is lighter, brighter and more airy!  It is also much more functional.  The contractor that we hired, Mark aka JMB Builders, did a really wonderful job.  Here are our top favorite features.

1. We can hear each other when in the living room vs. the kitchen.

2. We bought an induction stove (but didn’t pay MSRP). And it is awesome.  It now takes literally 2 minutes to boil a pot of water.  It is like Formula 1 compared to Toyota Camry.  This watched pot DOES boil and like crazy!  It also stir fries, scrambles eggs and everything else in record time.  Cooking a full dinner can be done in 20 minutes now.

3. Not cleaning teeny-tiny food items or spilled out of grouted tile is excellent.

4. Fitting everything into logically-laid-out cabinets is a far cry over shoveling our modern-day appliances into 1950s cupboards that don’t seem to make any sense.

5.Tilley has not figured out how to open the trash and it has been 3 weeks!  As we now actually have a kitchen trash IN the kitchen (as opposed to the porch or the garage, where it was safe before), this alone has been worth the pain spent in the remodel phase. 😀 😀

6. Our oven fits stuff!  Now we need to try thanksgiving again and this time, the bird will actually fit!

7. Having a non-corroded, pull-out faucet with a huge, deep sink is also convenient for doing dishes.  The under-mount sink is a great invention!

8. We love having lights!  The overhead lighting makes the whole area feel like a living space rather than a sleeping space or MAYBE a knitting or watching TV space.  We can actually enjoy being awake at night here.  The kitchen no longer feels like a school hallway either since the color of the LED lights is more natural.

9. We have a pull out pantry of sorts – that’s the tall cabinet next to the window.  It just makes more sense to us to have one place that the food should be in (although the oil is above the stove).

10. The glass cabinet doors are great – no one has to ask where the glasses are anymore and you can see our dishes (thanks, Aunt Cherie!)

11. The new dishwasher is peaceful and effective.  I’m wondering how long it will take our extremely hard water to form a bunch of rockage in it, but as of now, I’ve never seen such clean dishes.

12. Our cabinets have pull out drawers so we can can easily access appliances.  This is much better than having everything sit out taking up precious countertop space.

13. Those tiles really look cool!

And, since I can’t do anything without second guessing, here are the couple very minor points that maybe I would do differently:

1. Opening a door handle can be done with 1 finger.  A knob requires two fingers.  This is annoying if you are in the middle of cooking and your hands are messy, but is not a show stopper.

2. The counter is shallower by 2 inches or so than the old tiled counter.  Tilley can reach her little dog nose two inches deeper, which is a minor nuisance resolvable by pushing dishes back to the back of the counter space.  I wish we had seen this coming and had them made just a liiiiittle bit deeper.

Not too bad for a major project though!  And the middle of the road issues:

1. I’m still not passionate one way or the other about refrigerators, although the water dispenser and the storage space on this one is better than the old side-by-side one.  We definitely weren’t using all of the freezer space and pre-made casseroles didn’t fit well in that version either.

2. I like that the microwave doesn’t take up counter space.  We do use the microwave for re-heating things, but not really seriously enough that it warranted kicking the thing around all the time.  I do confess that the microwave hood fan is a little less powerful than I expected – despite having been told this by multiple sources.  This is probably because the induction stove is also more powerful than any other stove I’ve had.  Even if we had know this, however, we still would’ve opted for the microwave hood.  The kitchen space in our house is tight, no doubt about it, so maximizing and double-purposing spaces is very important.

I still haven’t posted on all of the specifics, especially appliance choices, the floors or the lighting, so those are yet to come.  One more time, old vs. New, FTW:

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Risk: friend or foe?

The most engrossing books/tv/movies have characters that take risks.  From Harry Potter to the Gilmore Girls to Mission Impossible to Atlas Shrugged to Laurel and Hardy to almost any biography (and beyond), characters don’t play it safe when they have choices*.  Their risk analyses are rarely intelligent, they aren’t always well-thought out, they don’t always end well and the situations are often happenstance. It is the uncertainty and consequences of these risks that make their stories so enticing.

We spend our free time engrossed in the stories of people who take risks and make bad decisions, often idolizing their off-kilter lives.  But, at our day jobs, we are taught to perform risk analyses and mitigate risk, to calculate the answer before actually acting.  This is the generally-accepted, most efficient way to do anything, and without it, investors won’t fund companies and, it seems, we won’t have products to sell.  We won’t sell Starbucks cappuccinos if they aren’t made according to the plan and rocket ships won’t launch without careful measurement.  Reading a story about someone who can’t hold a steady relationship or job is entertaining, but in our real lives, not being able to hold onto partners or build a career is a ‘flaw’.  Even the very origin of the word ‘risk’ is negative: mid 17th cent.: from French risque (noun), risquer (verb), from Italian risco ‘danger’ andrischiare ‘run into danger.’ (thanks, Google).

There is an apparent disconnect between our romanticism and fascination with the extraordinary and everyday life when we are told that we must minimize the risk.  Our fascination seems independent of the characters’ ability to weigh their options reasonably and forge the outcomes they desire.  Do we admire those who are willing to take risks because they are few and far between?  Or is it our nature to take risks but we choose not to because we evaluate situations and keep the odds of failure low?

Interestingly, it seems that Peter Drucker says, alternatively, that the origin of the word risk in arabic means “eating one’s daily bread” and are required in life and business.  He is also a proponent of logically facing risks.  It’s cliche that the greater the risk, the greater the opportunity for success.  Is the converse always true: the lower the risk, the less meaningful the success?  Low risk, high reward situations are as elusive as El Dorado.  It is key to avoid the particularly-dangerous high risk, low reward situations, I question whether there is ever a time to choose low risk, low reward over high risk, high reward.

I believe we don’t want to truly mitigate the risks we take on, but rather logically evaluate risky options, then focus our risk acceptance on the highest reward outcome (letting the low reward situations lay by the wayside).  After writing this, I found out that Mr. Drucker seems to support this  – and Mr. Drucker definitely knows what he’s talking about.

Perhaps an inability to set a goal could be re-phrased: I set up to take risks only when the outcome is great enough to be worth the investment – and often my recognition of ‘great enough’ may be too harsh, too slow, too on-the-spot or just plain old ineffective.  But, without intentional risks I don’t push myself to grow, and I’m a terribly boring movie character.


*One exception to this rule is the books where the characters cannot bring themselves to take risks and the author points out the devastation of playing it safe (ie, RevolutionaryRoad).

Chalk one up for repurposing.

This is the story of how I made my own chalk paint, painted a (free, re-purposed) nightstand, learned a great secret for stenciling and finished it all up with wax.

It is not necessary to justify an end table purchase, but the piece of crud that showed up in our house deserves some explanation.  Our dearth of furniture became obvious after we moved into our house last November.  We actually had never owned an end table because our couches could both access the coffee table and since we moved literally every year for 7 years, end tables (especially those grad students could afford) were pretty much dead weight.  However, our new house has a rather long living room so only one couch can use the coffee table conveniently.  Plus, I have spent way too much time looking at blogs and I see that end tables help make a house feel homey.  And Tilley seems to chew the furniture less*.

Anyway, time to buy an end table.  I tried to take one step up from Ikea and bought this little number from a fairly large store online:


Lesson #1: Cheap furniture not from Ikea can actually be much, much worse than that form Ikea.  It doesn’t look so bad in the store’s photo does it?  [Because I’m not saying very nice things about this store I don’t want to name names.]  However, when it actually showed up, the white part was yellowish, creamy MDF and the top was veneer that was about 1/16″ thick.  The whole thing smelled worse than cheap Ikea furniture and wasn’t easy to assemble.  But, the worst part was that there was a 2 inch chip out of the front of the veneer and the stain was splattered all over the top.  I do not have a picture of this tragedy since I didn’t really expect much to be come of it.

Fortunately, the large store has a phone line that is manned 7 days a week and has an excellent return policy.  Phone call #1 basically went as follows:

Me: My thing arrived.  It’s messed up, as in blah blah blah.

Customer rep: Can you fix it or would you like another one?

Me: No, definitely not.  I don’t know how to fix veneer.  I don’t really need another one since this has been disheartening. [Read: because it is a piece of crud.]

Customer rep: Ok, that’s a bummer.  We will give you a full refund and send you a USPS label so you can send it back.  Just package it all back in the original box, then schedule a pick-up when you have the label.

Me: Great, thanks.

I guess they must do this a lot.  Anyway, after about 10 days, the label hadn’t arrived so I called the store back and asked.  It turns out they had already refunded my credit card and weren’t going to pay for me to ship it back.  The lady this time said, “Just donate it.”  Ok then.  So, to donate it, I had to put the thing together.  Next time I want to assemble furniture, I am going to Ikea.  It was much more logical and the crummy pressed wood doesn’t completely fall apart.  Eventually I got it together and queued up to donate, but then, I remembered that I knew someone who needed a nightstand.   And a car-themed gag nightstand would be a great gift for this person…but you can’t buy those so what better way to use this stupid thing than for a gag gift?!  I filled the gap in the veneer with wood filler, let it dry a day and evened it out with a sanding block.  This removed the as-received hill-billy styling of the piece after I got some paint on it.

I decided to try out chalk paint on it because I like flat finishes, as I learned from my last furniture painting attempt.  I understand that chalk paint can typically be used without sanding or priming, but since this was sketchy, smelly Chinese MDF, I opted to prime before painting.  Sanding wasn’t an option for this finish.  Off came the hardware and I primed the now-nightstand with Zinsser BIN primer, which I have been assured is an excellent odor blocker by a Kelly-Moore rep that I met in Home Depot.  A Benjamin Moore store employee also told me that it is a good bonding primer, meaning that it should stick to shiney stuff.  It is shellac based, so it needs special brush cleaner (or disposable brushes).  Truthfully, I haven’t seen anyone else on the internet use this stuff – they all seem to prefer the oil based.  I have yet to find out why since this seems pretty stuck when I tried rubbing or scratching or sanding it off.  I already had a can on hand and it also cleaned off my hands without mineral spirits, so that was appealing for me.


Painting the end table with primer was already a step up.  Again, no photos, but just imagine the ugly thin in the photo up there all white.  I primed everywhere, including the inside of the drawer.

Since this is a low-budget project, I refused to buy full-priced, hard to find chalk paint and decided to make my own after cruising the internet.  I found my favorite list of recipes here and went with a calcium carbonate option, but created my own recipe.  I had no trouble finding this on Amazon.  This site used a 2:1 Paint: Calcium: Carbonate, which I assume is by volume.  I never follow recipes and this seemed a little thick to me.  I opted for about 8 tablespoons of the calcium carbonate, then added just enough water to stir into a paste.  The total volume of this mixture was roughly 4 oz.  I then poured in 16 oz of Behr Premium Plus Flat Enamel in Polar Bear White and stirred with a mixer that attached to my drill – probably meant for cement.  This type of paint said acrylic, not latex, on the can which may be useful for making homemade chalk paint.  The paint was a nice consistency, fairly close to what actually came out of the can.  All in all, I was very pleased with this recipe.  It went on smooth, did not dry with brush strokes and covered the primer with a single coat.  I did opt for two coats on the top for durability.  After it dried, the paint felt chalky, but not loose.  I was not interested in sanding the edges.  Now picture a white nightstand.  The photo is coming below.

I was interested in putting a stencil on top of this car-themed nightstand.  This is the emblem found on first-generation Pontiac Firebirds:


Whether or not it is politically-correct today is NOT the point of this post.  Let it suffice to say that the recipient of this nightstand is a fan of the first-gen Firebird, so I had an appropriate stencil made here on Etsy.  I was using previously-owned Martha Stewart metallic paint in Thundercloud, which may or may not be good paint for stenciling.

Lesson #2 (very important): Not all sponges for stenciling are created equal.  Typically one dunks the sponge in the paint, then blots off the excess paint until the sponge is basically dry.  I first tried a piece of just a plain old sponge, but couldn’t get it dry enough to not leave bubbles without making it so dry that it would not leave paint at all!  So, I drove over to Michaels and bought something like these.  These worked just as badly as the plain ol’ sponge!  But, I decided to plow ahead with too much paint on my brush…and got this mess:

photo 1

All of the bumps are because of the bubbles that formed in the brush.  The edges were also pretty far from clean since the paint leaked over.  I still had to do two coats to eliminate actual holes form the bubbles and so the whole Firebird logo was raised off of the nightstand.  Technically, it got the job done, but it bugged me.  Surely, there is a better way to do this!

I used my trusty friend the electric sander again and erased the Firebird from the top.  Then I put 2 coats of chalk paint back on.  The paint has kept perfectly for 2 weeks now in a plastic container with tight-fitting light (think large yogurt container).

Lesson #3: Makeup sponges make EXCELLENT stenciling applicators, especially when there is a lot of fine detail.  I actually learned that from here.  These are phenomenal and far and way better than anything else I tested.  Fortunately, I have a package of these for the foundation that I never wear.  The holes are so fine that the paint doesn’t bubble up and I could blot off the paint until they were dry, but still stencil paint with clean lines and no bubbles!  I end up going over the pattern 3 times to get the color to my liking.  Here she is:

photo 2

Lesson #4: Bleed through can be sort of cleaned up.  For those areas where I was impatient and didn’t blot of enough paint, there was still bleed through.  This was a particularly persnickety stencil since it had a lot of connected pieces, as you can tell.  It slipped around a lot and I was nervous about adhesive over my chalk paint.  If I did it again, I really now understand the importance of blotting FULLY EACH TIME no matter how annoying it is.

I used paste wax to seal the paint.  I used CeCe Caldwell‘s wax since it is all natural and I had to drive someplace special to get either this or Annie Sloan on the day that I wanted it.  I didn’t really want to pay for this for this project, but I have another project queued up that will benefit as well.

Lesson #5: Minwax paste wax in “natural” is not acceptable for white furniture.  I’m not the first to say this and I won’t be the last.  Fortunately, I tested it on the bottom just to see what would happen.  1) It was hard and didn’t blend well and 2) it was orange.  It is much much cheaper though, so I still would use it on a darker furniture item.

I painted the handle (spray Zinsser BIN and the Martha Stewart paint again) and screwed it back on.  Here is the whole thing in a room:


Yikes, iPhone photos are not good for decorating photos.  Note my clever off-set positioning of the stencil so the lamp wasn’t smack in the middle of the stencil.

Fortunately, I already owned a lot of the supplies (and those which I did not are mostly reusable for other projects), otherwise this would have been quite expensive to dress up a free nightstand.

Anyway, the project was fun, the recipient is happy and I learned that homemade chalk paint is great and there are some tricks to stenciling.  The end table shall have a lovely new life as a nightstand!



*This totally looks like a sane dog who doesn’t chew furniture, right?