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~BackGround~ Up until receiving this as a gift last summer, I had never taken electric shavers seriously. Previously I had owned various Brauns, and Philips models; which although expensive, have performed utterly miserably, caused painful irratation, and worse still left me looking half shaved. Being Italian I just assumed that this issue with electric shavers was because of the mediteranean facial hair type, being rather thick and fast growing. The Panasonic ES-RT51-S511 (or just RT51) has however changed all that and re-written my views on dry shaving. *-----------------------------------* ~The Panasonic RT51~ *-----------------------------------* Main Features: The Panasonic ES-RT51-S511 Shaver best feature is that it can be used in both wet or dry conditions, and the fact that it comes with a face hugging multi-pivotal three head unit. Lost you? Well essentially this means in plain English; that the (3 foil) shaving head on this unit can move with facial contours along the axis (axi?) which count for comfort, and that the unit is waterproof. This is not a unique feature, not by a long shot, but when coupled with the 10,000 rpm cutters which are 30 degree nano-sharpened and stainless steel foils, it does make for an exceptionally comfortable shave. Don't worry if you have no idea what 30 degree nano means, it just refers the particle size, and angle achieved, when used to sharpen the cutting edge, which equates to extremely, insanely sharp cutting surfaces when used in conjunction with the stainless steel foils as this unit does. Oh should also mention the pop-up trimmer which yes isn't exciting, but is of course part of the standard kit, as is the almost obligatory cleaning brush, charging lead, and soft touch carry pouch. Battery Life: Gone are the days of ALWAYS having to fully cycle batteries from fully charged to drained, to get optimal usage, which lasted just a few months before degredation anyway. The modern batteries using rare metals, perform exceptionally, even with irregular charging patterns (although cycling occasionally as described maintains battery longevity). With a 1hr charge you can safely expect around 40-45 minutes of shaving time, which for most people will equate to around 5-7 shaves, which is a drastic improvement over the earlier shaver models. With regards to battery degredation, having owned the unit for 8 months, there is no noticeable lack of the above charging/usage performance mentioned which bodes well, as changing the integral batteries is almost a terminal activity (cost-wise). Purchasing tips: I will start by saying be careful and don't pay too much for this shaver, I have seen this on-sale for around £140, and the majority of retailers have this unit for sale ranging from £68 to £110. Why such variance? No idea, but I know from experience it always pays to shop around anyway (prices correct at time of writing). Amazon for example, have had this unit for sale at around £50 at times, so keep your eyes open!! One annoying sales issue; which is bordering a transgression of the sales of goods act, is that I have noticed that the unit is sometimes described as coming with a charging base on many of the online retailers websites descriptions. I can assure you, it does not (or at least mine didn't). Shaving: I can honestly 100% vouch that my face required absolutely no adjustment to using this shaver, there was no initial period of a rash, or anything of the kind. The shaver shaved incredibly closely (within a whisker of a wet shave, pardon the pun) and smoothly, and caused absolutely no irratation at all, even in the sensitive and hard to shave jawline and neck area. In addition, the shaver can cope with a few days growth of beard, but to be honest I imagine it is best in terms of maintaining the shavers performance for longer, to not leave it that late. However, it can cope if the occasion calls. Although this shaver can be used wet, and even with lotions, potions, gels, or shaving foam, personally I didn't bother more than once. It does perform well in that manner, but the whole point for me of dry shaving was to be faster, and make less mess. Which clearly using and purchasing all those extras to shave with, doesn't translate. You could however shave in the shower, or at the botttom of a swimming pool, as the unit is fully waterproof, with isolated electrical circuits within. The time, the "wet" feature does come in useful though, is for cleaning. You can simply take the head off (by depressing a few buttons) and wash the whole thing under running water. And since the principle parts are stainless steel, a quick drying off period before reassembly, is all you need to worry about. No lubricant is needed! Should mention the ideal size and feel of the unit, it just fits so perfectly in your hand, and the switch has been recessed in slightly, so you can't turn off mid shave, which is a problem on units I had previously owned. Spares: I might be wrong, but i'm sure my last electric shaver which ended up in the bin, had foils which required replacing after 3 months, and cutters which needed changing every 6. And with foils costing around £20, and cutters the same again, it was expensive. Seems technological advances have now increased such restricitve timescales, the recommended 1 year for the foils, and 2 years for the cutters (the bits inside) seems alot more reasonable, and makes the unit incredibly economical to operate. At the time of writing the part numbers for the spares are; WES9064Y Cutters WES9085Y Foils Summary: If like me you had a negative view of electric shavers, are pressed for time in the morning, and/or can't be bothered to wet shave, then this shaver is definitely one to try. For a reasonable amount of your hard earned pennies, you get a quality unit which performs like no other electric shaver I know off, and exceeds my expectations. Also worth noting, the main difference between this unit and the more expensive variants, is the self clean feature. In my opinion if you're too lazy to press two buttons and rinse the thing under the tap, you're welcome to pay the extra £100! For me, as the previous owner of a 9am - 4 o'clock shadow, this unit is has been nothing short of absolutely outstanding!
_+-----Background------+_ This book seems to promise to do the impossible, to explain away Sciences and Einsteins most famous of formula, in simple terms, with little mathematics, or complex science, and all with the paradox; of ALSO being entertaining. I am sure many of the female readers of this review (and many of the men) will defnitely know and maybe even admire Professor Brian Cox, he along with his floppy hair, and aviators, seems to be appearing everywhere these days. From playing with liquid nitrogen, and butt plugs (not a typo) on the Jonahthan Ross show, to cooking with Tim Lovejoy on Something for the Weekend, or even talking science funding on the Alternative Election Show. Or more likely you saw him as did millions of others, calling Astrology "Rubbish" on his superb (and surely to be, award winning), BBC2 television series "Wonders of the Solar System". Calmly explaining away things like the 'Conservation of Angular Momentum', and actually making it easy to understand. Well both Brian, and Professor Jeff Forshaw (largely unknown but another great character) get together, to explain away in simple terms, and with little advanced mathematics, one of the most frequently asked questions in Science, being; Why does E=MC2 (and why should we care). _+-----Who is this book for-----+_ This book would suit anyone with a general interest in Science, or anyone who wants something very entertaining but at the same time very educational. It would most likely suit younger people, and serve as an inspirational motivator to study Science. _+-----The Review-----+_ After quite a long winded few pages including a preface, (and how Brians wife Gia Milo-something-ovic asked this very same question, and other various entertaining but pointless drivel and dedications), the book finally gets underway with an eye opening introduction to Space Time. I have got to say, the first Chapter does really suck you in, and any thoughts that Science is boring, and overly complicated to explain is quickly disspelled. Later chapters on the Speed of Light, Special Relativity etc, do get slightly more complex, but nothing more than the average person wouldn't understand easily. And the well known fact that "You can't go faster than light" is explained beautifully, rather than being forced down your throat as a given. After reading a few chapters you will definitely be viewing things differently. For example, did you know that time actually passes slower for a person standing on a train platform, than the time actually is, if you were seated on the train and whizzing past. Meaning you will get off the train younger (relatively) to the person who was stationery. Albeit by the tiniest fractions of a second, but younger nonetheless! While you may think this irrelevant, as your lifespan remains the same, it certainly isn't when you consider space travel. The book goes on to demonstrate that how travelling at fractions of the speed of light out into space for a year, would actually mean 1,000s of years would be passing on Earth, relative to you, the space traveller. Another example, is how distances also shrink the faster you go too, again the book explains how a 4 meter long car, would fit inside a 3.75 meter long garage if it were travelling at something like 26% of the speed of light. Albeit it would crash through the other side, but a minor point in the demonstration of the theory. Don't worry these few example haven't spoiled your read, the book is packed with examples, and follows a logical progression toward explaining away the why's of the formula, with clear concise explanations, and not to much mathematics. Actually the book doesn't so much explain why E=MC2, it lets you arrive at that conclusion in an, almost Eureka type moment. While talking about the factual side, I haven't so far mentioned the narrative, which is very engaging, and keeps you reading on. It is quite easy to tell (in my opinion) the parts written by Brian, (apart from mention of the Large Hadron Collider), as his personality and enthusiasm seems to shine through in places. Even in places as I mentioned where formula and mathematics appear it is still done in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and even the option to skip past is offered. If you omit those pages, the book seemlessly flows, as the results in plain English are clearly summarized after any technical parts are explained using numbers, and algebra type text. Towards the end of the book, things like wormholes (any sci-fi fan will know what those are) blackholes, and time-travel are mentioned, and I expect fans of Sci-Fi will relish the prospect that Science actually theorizes and relates to much of what is seen in the countless movies, and books of that genre (albeit with much exaggeration, and embelishment). In summary I would say, this book is defnitely worth a read, and regardless of your level of interest in Science, this could be enjoyed by anyone, and will appeal to your inner Geek!
~Background~ I used to have issues with my Chopper. And if you have read my review on James Martins Mini-Chopper (by Wahl) you will realize that in the world of small compact food processors (choppers) it isn't a level playing field, and some units fail miserably to live upto expectations. In summary. I was completely dissastisfied with it. In fact I hated it. Upon recommendation from the then 'Dooyoo Guide' Narr, I purchased one of the Kenwood FP compacts, in this case the FP220. My verdict after owning the unit for 13 months is below. *-----------------------------------* ~The Kenwood FP220~ *-----------------------------------* ~GENERAL NOTES~ For the £40 or so, that you will expect to pay for this unit. You do get alot of value for your money. For the price this unit, carries the renowkned Kenwood name, which is synonomous with food processors. In addition to the quality brand name, the unit boasts a 2.1 litre capacity bowl, and a 1.2 litre capacity liquidiser. The unit has also has many functions (15 in total) more commonly found on its bigger brothers, it has 2 speeds, a pulse function, and comes with a high quality chopping blade, a whipping tool, a citrus juice, a shredding/slicing disk and a very nice plastic spatula. Yet before I start singing its praises, I have to make it clear from the start, that this is NOT a full blown food processor, and if you think of it in terms of one, then you will potentially be dissapointed. The reason I say this, is two fold. Firstly the capacity of the bowl, which is not quite large enough to really count as a "real" food processor, nor does it have the muscle power to deal with heavy duty work. Secondly, the unit is compact with a footprint of around 20cm approx, but its quite tall, coming in at around 40cm or so. Net result of the small footprint and the tall height, is that the unit has a high centre of gravity, and is unstable if overloaded, and while it won't topple over, it will dance and shake if you try making it work too hard or cramm it to full. However, if you think of this unit as intended, and view it as a compact processor or a chopper, then it is superb! Suddenly the 2 litre bowl is generous, the ability to pulse, or operate in two speeds is class leading. The motor is adequately powered to demolish onions, or slice carrots, the 1.2 litre liquidiser can demolish ice cubes for delicious smoothies. The compact size also means it can stay left out on your work surface. One thing to note though, is if you have low hung kitchen units, then do make sure you have clearance in excess of 60cm above your worktop, to make sure it fits comfortably, and for access. Under some circumstances the height, could be an issue. ~USED IN ANGER~ -The mixing bowl, chopping blade; NOTE: Before I begin, a word of note, this unit needs to be "clicked" firmly into place for it to work, it is a safety feature. Compared to some early versions of Kenwoods I have owned, this seats very effectively and easily onto the base. You do have to ensure though, that you do give it that extra final twist to lock it in place. To be honest, the chopping capability of this unit was the main reason for my purchase. I wanted a chopper that had the grunt to cope with dicing onions and potatoes etc, a unit that was able to make pizza dough etc, ALL without jamming or cutting everything unevenly. This is indeed, that machine. Further whilst the motor is undoubtedly a little harsh sounding, it is very powerful for a compact unit, and can dice 2-3 medium sized onions at once, no problem at all. If I compare this to my previos 'James Martin' Wahl unit which felt underpowered, (the review of which is on dooyoo), the difference and results are night and day. Aside from the obvious tasks of chopping, I also wanted a chopper, which was delicate enough to deal with herbs, have a large enough capacity to be able to make mayonaisse, humus, or a pesto in quantity, but without being a huge ordeal to clean or setup. The FP220 ticks all of these boxes. Apart from the usual cutting blade, the FP220 also comes with a cutting disk for slicing. I can confirm it works beautifully, producing even slices. During the time I have owned the unit, we have sliced things from cucumbers, all the way through to tough old carrots without any issues at all. The whisking attachment puzzled me to begin with, I didn't imagine what it was for, or how it would work at first. A quite read of the simple manual, and all became clear, and I have to report that compared to a hand held electric whisk, this unit can whip cream, or whip egg whites into perfect meringue consistency, in the blink of an eye. Juicer isn't worth mentioning really, its pretty obviously going to work, albeit quite messy to clean up. -The Liquidiser; The supplied liquidiser causes me a few issues, at the begining of this review I mentioned in the note a safety feature which ensures the mixing bowl is firmly attached before you can use it. However for the liquidiser I feel the need to issue a warning. WARNING: When the Liquidiser is attached to the base unit, the unit can be TURNED ON, without the lid being attached. This means your hands/fingers etc could potentially come into contact with the blade. To me this is horrific! My previous Philips liquidiser had a safety feature which ensured the lid was attached BEFORE the unit could be turned on. This feature clearly was overlooked on this product. Only a minor point maybe, but in my experience, if things can happen they will, and somebody somewhere is going to thoughtlessly put their hands inside the blender while it is on. This should not be possible. That complaint/warning aside, the unit does perform very well, it can easily deal with ice for making smoothies, or delicious mojito cocktails, and it goes without saying milkshakes are a breeze. ~CLEANING UP~ As is standard on practically all kitchen items these days, the whole unit (obviously not the base unit) parts are dishwasher safe, but on most occasions we just rinse the parts in soapy water. The beauty of the FP220 is that the whole jug breaks down into easily rinsable parts with few nooks or crannys. This includes the liquidiser, the blade base of which also detaches (with an anti-clockwise twist) leaving the jug easily rinsed. ~RELIABILITY~ As mentioned right at the begining, this unit is not a full blown food processor, if you try and bully the unit and continually overload it, I imagine the motor will eventually fail earlier than expected. That said, I have abused the unit quite heavily for months, almost daily, and its working fine. I have read reports of early failures, but that isn't at all my experience. With normal usage, I would expect excellent reliability over many years. Given the price, that is outstanding! The other moving parts seem very durable, and certainly in the duration of ownership (13 months), and practically daily use, there is NO sign of wear and tear at all, and even the blades remain remarkbly sharp. ~SUMMARY~ I have in this review concentrated on quite a few of the negatives, but on balance I am extrememly pleased with the purchase, and for many reasons I would not hesistate to recommend this machine. In particular this unit would suit young couples, or single people, and as the unit can be left out on your workspace (as it is quite small), it is definitely something which will get alot of use.
^-^-^-^-^-^-^ ^Background^ ^-^-^-^-^-^-^ With the price of bread being so cheap, it does seem rather a strange purchase these days, a breadmaker. However, you have to consider that bread, and real bread are different things. A freshly baked loaf wafting the scent of yeast, rye or baked wheat around your house, is worlds apart, from the artificial doughy, colon clogging, mush, you get from supermarkets. Also haven't you noticed how supermarket bread seems to keep for ages, bread simply refuses to go stale, or mouldy these days. Have you ever considered why that might be, or ever wondered what is being added. Beware of the "false" promise of no added artificial preservatives, colourings or flavourings. The word "artificial" can be missleading. There are a host of ingredients which are considered "natural", which are far from storecupboard items, and probably more at home in chemists labarotories.. But, when you are able to control the ingredients, your able to produce a loaf of bread that not only tastes good, but is good for the familys health. Wether it be a plain white loaf, a wholemeal, an Italian ciabatta, or even a dark eastern european rye, you know its good for you. So not even yet thinking about versatility, this is reason enough, in my opinion to purchase a breadmaker. ^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^^-^-^-^-^-^ ^My thoughts; Panasonic SD-255^ ^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^-^^-^-^-^-^-^ -Why choose Panasonic- When it comes to breadmakers, there are really two categories to consider when making a purchase. (1) Those that deliver reliable results; (2) Those that don't; Depending on which category you made a purchase from, will depend on your view of breadmakers in general, and this is the reason why many people hate them. OK I can't speak for other manufacturers/models, but after owning the Panasonic SD-255 for over two years, I can categorically confirm that the Panasonic is a model that does work and deliver reliable, consistent results, in fact it performs exceptionally well. -Features- The Panasonic SD-255 boasts an array of impressive features amongst which is it's capability of producing three loaf sizes, various crust settings, a rapid bake mode (2 hours) and a 13 hour time delay. Which enables you to wake up to a fresh loaf, and the arousing aromas assosciated with that. In addition the unit comes with a raisin/nut dispenser (fully automated), and two kneading hooks; a basic paddle, and one especially designed for rye flour. It is also worth mentioning, stylish looks (so far as can apply to a breadmaker), the touchpad control screen, the stay cool side walls, the extensive recipe booklet. And the relatively small footprint of the whole unit, which probably equates to the size of a sheet of A4 paper, and the unit sits at approximately 12-14 inches high. So can sit quite comfortably on most kitchen worktops. -Cost- This isn't cheap, you can expect to pay around £70-90 for the -255, it is however worth every penny. I am not going to pretend that you will save money, because in all honesty it would take an age to recoup the outlay. You can't however put a price on the health benefits, and the vast improvement in taste and quality you will experience. While talking about cost, it is worth mentioning that on average you can produce a loaf including energy consumption (at current prices June '10) for approximately 60-80p per large loaf. Which isn't excessively high given the difference in quality between mass produced bread. -Using the unit- I have to admit, I was quite dubious that breadmaker bread, would actually be any good to eat. I just couldn' t picture how that tiny little paddle in the bottom of the bread tin, was going to knead a loaf, and how on earth it wasn't all not going to end in a sticky mess. To this day, I don't know how it does it, but it works. Even the paddle, leaves only an insignificant small dent in the bottom. It also always comes out of the tin, without any fuss. No sticking, no mess. Washing up just consists of a wipe with a soapy cloth, and/or a quick soak for the paddle. Very sad to get excited about food, but it is quite "magical". To make a loaf, you essentially drop the paddle onto the peg in the tin, add all the dry ingredients into the tin, add the required amount of water, set the tin into the base unit, select the desired product (more on that later) using the touchpad, press start and away you go, and wait for the beep. The time display, shows the status, and the time left to completion. That is all you basically do, it really is fool proof. If you wants nuts/seeds within your loaf, just select the setting, and the unit will automatically add these into the mixture for you, all you do is add them into the special compartment at the start of the process. The timer I mentioned earlier, is really quite clever. As it isn't just a delay as I expected, it actually is the time when the loaf will be ready. So if you set an 8hr delay, the unit will switch itself into action a few hours prior to the 8hrs, so that the bread is actually ready when the timer beeps. As a cautionary note, depending on what your making, baking times vary. Basic loaf can be ready in 2 hours, but some wholemeals can take 4-5 hours. A little forward planning is required. In my opinion the best part of all, is the huge array of things you can do with this breadmaker reliably. It can start a sourdough "starter" for you, so that you can make things like real Italian Ciabatta, or French breads. It can of course make every type of loaf you can imagine, or experimental combinations you want to try. For example, one of my favourite breads, is a mixture of wholemeal, rye, and "spelt" flour. I don't actually bake the loaf in the breadmaker, but use it only to make the dough (yes there is a setting for that), the loaf can then be later baked conventionally in an oven. Just to get that extra hard crust, or traditional shape. That isn't to say the breadmaker doesn't bake well, because it does, the only word of caution is it will come out far hotter than you imagine, so handle with care, and cool on a rack. Aside from making dough as I loosely just mentioned (did I mention Pizza dough, no, well yes that too), the machine can do the opposite and allow you to just "bake", so you can do things like cakes etc, without using your full size oven. This feature also enables you to make jams/chutneys, that is probably an unofficial use, but plenty of information on how to do it, can be found on the net. And in fact my friend and I, did make loads of green tomato chutney in there last year. Almost forget to mention Brioche, if you love this French speciality, you will love it freshly baked. I promise you, few things can beat warm brioche, and lots of strawberry jam. A few presses of the pad, a nights sleep, and you can wake up to a freshly baked one. In fact, my house mate is obsessed with it, and since I love it too, it has become a tradition, without fail ever sunday morning in our house, the divine smell of freshly baked Brioche is wafting around. -Summary- Owning a breadmaker can be hit and miss, some units are definitely superior to others, equally some are inconsistent, or plainly don't deliver results. Rest assured though the Panasonic SD-255 is undoubtedly one of the better ones, so if your keen on eating healthier, being in control of salt intake, or wanting to make sure you know what your family are eating, go for it and buy one! You won't be dissapointed, I gurantee. You probably won't save too much money, but you will with very little effort, and forward planning, continually enjoy a variety of breads/cakes that you enjoy. This product will deliver consistent results, and is economical to use. I could hardly praise the unit anymore than I have.
#---#---#---# Background #---#---#---# I remember laughing at this product when first seeing it being advertised on one of those shopping channels, it just looked so flimsy, so rubbish, the claims seemed to be far fetched, and the price at over £80 was just in my opinion, plain ridicolous (and no I don't normally make a habit out of watching shopping channels, other than for the humour). However 'lo and behold', a few weeks later I noticed while visiting a cousin, that she had in fact purchased one of these idiotic units, and to my horror, was very much in love with it. I didn't understand why, until she explained that she "irons" all her husbands work shirts for the week in around 8 minutes. That is around 6 shirts in 8 minutes. Now when I think of the pain, in setting up the ironing board, waiting for the iron to heat, messing around in arranging the shirt on the board, then faffing around to do the buttons and collar, I couldn't do anything other than take the bait. A few mouse clicks later, and one from Amazon for around £50 was purchased. As the price is just a little over the cost of a decent Iron, it didn't seem to bad. #---#---#---#---# First Impressions #---#---#---#---# Ok this looked like a cheap, nasty product on the TV shopping channel, and when it arrives, it does indeed look and feel quite cheap, and frankly a poorly assembled thing. The extendable pole that holds the head unit and hose, (and you hang the clothes from), is particularly poor. So if you are looking for German build quality, or Italian stlying, this probably isn't the product for you. So I am thinking, wow I have just spent £50 on what is essentially a strangely shaped, kettle with a hosepipe attached to it. In reality however, I am being unfair, this unit is portable so it has to be lightweight, and consequently feel flimsy, the design although not pretty is functional, as is the base unit. Which although is rather flimsy, can do the job. So far as the poorly assembled bit, I have to say that too is unfounded, as my unit is now years old and is still going strong despite daily usage. #---#---#---# Setting it up #---#---#---# Actually not alot to it, just a case of attaching a few hoses and clipping a few bits together, extending the telescopic tubes which form the base holder, and this is ALL pretty much idiot proof. I will however add a word of caution!! There is a valve at the rear of the unit, which is for emptying the contents of the chamber (draining the water). It doesn't say on the unit, thats what it does, but that is what it is for so DO MAKE SURE you close that off firmly before trying to use it. It probably does say this in the instructions, being bein a man, those were flung in the bin. In case your wondering what happens if you don't seal that valve off, well think of puddles of water on the floor, and you will be about right! #---#---# In Action #---#---# Probably unsurprisingly, given it was the main reason for my purchase, the first thing I used this for was ironing shirts. Now I will be honest here, I did call up my cousin and shout at her "This is crap", which it was in my hands. That was until I learned that you have to pull the material slightly taut, after which the wrinkles, creases, and whatevers vanish instantly, as if being botoxed. And from discovering that simple piece of advice, I haven't looked back. The water is easily added via the removable water tank, and surprisingly given the design, it doesn't leak. People who report leaks, probably have not tightened the valve (I mentioned) at the rear of the unit. It is also gets steamy and ready for use in under 2 minutes, probably quicker. It really is fast. Shirts can indeed be ironed in less than a couple of minutes, creases just with a simple pass of the head unit, simply vanish. Far from being a one trick pony though, this unit can do anything, even (with the correct manipulation) put creases into trousers, and iron fiddly little t-shirts etc. It can handle delicates, and pass over sequins (not that I own such items), or appliques, no problem at all, and without damaging surfaces. Clothing aside, with the addition of the "carry straps" you can unleash this thing, and precauriously "iron" immovable objects like curtains, duvet covers can be ironed after putting them on the bed. Even the mattress itself can be freshened up, and dust mites (if such things exist) wiped out by blasting with the hot steam. Testimony to this, is that I have to say I have not used a traditional iron, or opened an ironing board for years. The Tobi is just simlpy pushed on its wheeled based to the side of the wadrobe. And because it is so fast, you don't need to iron your clothes before putting them away, I just blast them before I wear them, saves SOO much time. #---#---# Its Flaws #---#---# Ok this isn't perfect, you will notice I used the word "precarious" when talking about going mobile, thats because it is rather unwieldly when being used. You are suddenly aware that your carrying water and electricity in rather close proximity to each other. Although it is undoubtedly safe, it doesn't feel it. Also the hose is a little short, just a few more inches would be nice to reach tops of curtains etc. Another flaw, which I mentioned is the base, it just feels to flimsy. When you hang anything more substantial than a shirt it does feel like its going to topple over. There are ways around this, you can hang the garment on a door handle and work from there, or even just hold it. I have to ADD, do NOT be tempted to try to steam a garment while wearing it, don't ask why I advise you not too. Ouch! Lastly, the hose is slightly too short, but then again that can be said for alot of things we make do with. #---#---# Summary #---#---# If like me you absolutely hate ironing, I strongly recommend you invest in one of these, I also strongly recommend you perservere with it, at first you will hate it, and blame this stupid review for recommending it. Do however perservere, you will get the hang of it, and it will save you ages in messing around with boring old irons, and boards. And save you dry cleaning costs, if all you want to do is freshen something up. Another word of advice, is do not purchase the unit from 'Thames' directly, or from the TV, there are better deals on the web, from places like Amazon, or even ebay. I wouldn't advise paying more than £50, but at that price it is well worth it!
~Brief Background~ To those who are not familiar with Jefferey Deaver, he is a best selling author of countless 'crime thrillers and mysteries' genre novels. This particular book happens to be the 7th book in the series featuring ex-head of NYPD forensics, quadriplegic Detective Lincoln Rhyme, and his sidekick Detective Emelia Sachs. This series originally kicked off with the reknowned book, (and later the movie) "The Bone Collector". A book, and movie, which i'm sure most people are familiar with. I though, jumped straight in with The Cold Moon, because it just happened to be on offer at a local book store. ~My Thoughts on the Novel~ The book begins with the serial killer dubbed the "Watchmaker" (because of his apparant love of timepieces, and his bizarre 'calling card' of leaving a moon faced grandfather clock, at the crime scene) and his accomplice, leaving a crime scene, and discussing and plotting meticolously how they are going to despatch another victim. All of which seemed to involve some kind of macabre infliction of suffering, and a sexually driven motivation from his partner. At this point, I was thinking here we go, its SAW all over again. The deatil of the murder scenes, and the manner of despatch did very much remind me of that movie. Thankfully though, from a few more pages in, the book jumped straight into the investigation and although the murderers did feature throughout (obviously), the main drive and focus of interest was the complex relationships between the two Detectives, and the varying characters, and subplots which brew away quietly. Whether any of these subplots are going to later turn out to be linked, or clever twists are not obviously clear, and add to building up the suspense. I was particularly impressed with the introduction of the character from the Californian Bureau of Investigation, Kathryn Dance who is a specialist in the field of kinesics (body language), and obviously invaluable when interviewing witnesses, or for that matter the suspects. In particular this addition just added to the HUGE amount of detail, and understanding shown by the author of crime scene investigation, the techniques, and the level of detail, was astounding. Being quite a fan of the TV series CSI, I was suddenly finding myself being in a position where it was quite hard to put the book down. It is really a compliment to the author, as im normally quite slow at reading. My only very minor critique (which I will later withdraw) is that I found the book running out of steam just after mid point, I was losing track of the extra characters being added, and was finding it hard to establish how any of the plots were ever going to evolve into a conclusion that wasn't quite so obvious as the one being clearly laid before me. Jefferey Deaver though, is clearly a master of suspense, and this lull must have been intended, to really fire interest in the intense last quarter of the book. There are more twists and turns than driving along an Alpine pass, just as you think its becoming clear again, the book takes another twist. For a book, it is quite emotionally involving. Without ruining the experience for anyone who hasn't read this, I won't reveal any plot further than saying all is not quite what it seems. Do trust the author though, the plots do all blend nicely together, or do they. Well if like me you read this book, after about a dozen or so, twists and turns of seemingly unthinkable outcomes, all will become clear. This is my first read of this series, featuring Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs, but I will certainly be looking out, to read a few more.
****************** ~Notes from Luigi~ ****************** I can think of two very good reasons, just from the top of my head, why everyone should partcipate in "home cooking". Firstly it is healthier; Secondly it is cheaper. The problem is alot of people perceive home cooking as either 'too complicated', or 'too time consuming'. Neither of these, is the case at all for most people though. I believe that the #1 reason why most people eat readymade meals, take aways, packet mixes, stir-in sauces or the ilk, wether they want to admit it or not, is that they are TOO lazy to cook. Period. Just think of all the harm that all that packaging, production, and transportation costs are doing to the natural environment! There should be a ready meal tax, and less tax on fuel! In the unlikely event, that your in the minority of people who don't know how to cook, or are keen to venture into the realm of home cooking for financial or health reasons, I hope this review will be of some use. ************************** ~Succesful Home Cooking~ ************************** When it comes to food I am a complete anal retentive. I make everything from scratch, other than most condiments, and I never EVER use any readymade sauces, or packet mixes at all. In fact I abhorr them, and think them to be a complete waste of money. Obviously I eat out in resturaunts, but calorie laden take aways, are a definite NO-NO. If I want Chinese, I make it. If I want Indian I make it. If I want Japanese, I'll go to Japan! (yes there are limits, and Japanese is one of them) Essentially all you need to be a succesful home cook, are a few basic principles; -Have a well stocked larder -Plan ahead where possible -Learn the basics So lets start the way I always like too, from the bottom up. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Learning the basics; ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ By learning the basics, I mean you need to have a grasp of basic skills. i.e. -How to make a white sauce -How to portion a whole chicken seperating and using breasts, thighs, wings, carcasses. -How to make basic recipes And things like how to make a stock, how to make a few basic sauces, how to season food properly, how to make a few basic recipes, and make them well. Essentially you can learn all of these by either reading a book, or watching a few cookery shows, and then by lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of trial and error. Don't be scared of messing up. As the famous artist Bob Ross said, there are no mistakes, just happy accidents. Fortunately with cooking, unlike art, you can eat most 'happy accidents'. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Plan ahead where possible; ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ If you are going to be wanting chicken tonight, its no use going home and discovering you do not have any. So when you do your weekly shop have some idea of what stock levels are like, to make sure you have all the ingredients for what your likely to fancy during the coming week. In addition it is a good idea to visit a website such as "mysupermarket.co.uk" and find what deals are on, for things like fresh meat or poultry and stock up when the offers are running. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Keeping Stock of Stock; ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Lastly the most important part of home cooking; The well stocked pantry/larder is what makes the difference between being able to make that dish, or having to use packet mixes. From the below essentials, you will be able to create practically anything at all! The Essentials; Essential Store-cupboard Items -Various flours, including wholemeal, Strong white, Rye etc. -White and Brown Sugar -Dried fast acting yeast for breads, pizza's etc, -Maldon Sea Salt, Rock Salt, and Whole Peppercorns -Spice selection; Paprika, Smoked Paprika, Cumin, Coriander, Garam Masala, Chilli Powder, Tumeric, Vanilla Pods, Mustard seeds, Sesame Seeds, Star Anise, Chinese five Spice, All Spice, Mixed Spice, Cinnamon powder, Cinnamon Sticks, Others you fancy! -Dried herbs; Oregano, Dill, Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaves, Parsley, Mint, Basil (albeit the latter three lose alot of flavour in dried form) -Pine Nuts, Hazel Nuts, Walnuts, Cashew nuts (once opened freeze nuts to keep them fresh) -Tinned fruit, Pineapple, Peach, Pear -Soy Sauce (light and dark) -Tomato Puree -Olive Oil -Vegetable Oil -Sesame Oil -Basmati Rice -American Long Grain Rice -Various Pasta's -Cous Cous -Polenta -Bulgar Wheat -Yellow Split Pears -Pearl Barley -Dried mushrooms -Stock cubes, Vegetable, Chicken and Beef Condiments; -Tomato Ketchup -Worcstershire Sauce -White wine vinegar -Red wine vinegar -Whole grain, and English Mustard Fridge Essentials; -Milk -Eggs -Fresh herbs such as Basil, Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary -Garlic -Ginger -Butter (real butter) -Cheese, Parmesan, Cheddar, a Blue Cheese, Mozaerlla -Cream, Sour, Double etc Fresh Vegetables; -Celery -Carrots, -Onions, -Shallots, -Potatoes, -Tomatoes (note Celery, Carrot and Onion form the basis for so many recipes always have those) Fresh Fruit; Apples, Pears, Bananas, Freezer Essentials; -Chicken portions (buy whole, portion them yourself) -Turkey thighs diced (cheap, great for curries) -Pork Belly, Chops, Loins -Lamb, Leg, Shoulder, Chops -Beef Joints, Steaks, cheaper cuts for stews -Minces; Pork, Lamb, Beef -Frozen fish such as salmon steaks, cod fillets, squid, etc. -Frozen Peas, -Fronze Green Beans, -Frozen Mixed Vegetables, ************** ~A few Ideas~ ************** Fancy a Chinese? Stuff the take-away, try this healthy version of a takeaway favourite. Sweet and Sour Pork; 2 tablespoons Brown Sugar 100ml water 2 squeezes of Tomato Ketchup 2 tablespoons of Soy Sauce, Light 2 tablespoons of White Wine Vinegar Some diced pork, 1 onion cut into large chunks Some diced pineapple Mix together a few tablespoons of brown sugar into 100ml water, into it add a couple of good squeezes of tomato ketchup, and a couple of tablespoons of Soy sauce (light), then add a few tablespoons of flour, and two tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Stir together, and heat until it becomes thickens slightly, and is nice and sticky. Meanwhile, fry off some pork chunks when virtually cooked, throw in the onion, and lastly after a few more minutes of cooking add the pineapple. Over this pour the previously made sweet and sour sauce, and serve this over some plain boiled american long grain rice. Lovely! Fancy something Italian, this Italian Pasta bake, is moron proof. Fry some onion and garlic, add a dozen or so de-seeded tomatoes, a squeeze of tomato puree some dried herbs, some water. Cook for ten-fifteen minutes, pour over cooked pasta, put into an oven proof dish, place some mozeralla in around the pasta, grate parmesan over the top, bake for twenty minutes in a hot oven. Eat. Wait, what about a garlic bread to go with it. Griddle a slice of thick bread, oil it well (very very genorously) with olive oil first, once done, and nicely charred, rub a half of freshly cut garlic over it. It will taste better than any shop purchased one. ****************************** ~Healthy and Financially rewarding~ ****************************** It is a known fact, ready made meals, packet mixes and sauces are laden with salts (generally). That is not even taking into account other nasties lurking amongst the ingredients. If you make things from scratch, you know exactly what is going in there, and more importantly what you are shovelling into your mouth! Also by cooking with more fresh ingredients, you are actually consuming more vitamins and trace elements. Quite often the manufacturing process destroys these in ready meals, and the manufacturers bolster the levels with chemical alternatives. So what about saving money, if I purchase your recommended larder contents it will cost a fortune? Well yes it will initially, but once you are just maintaining what you have, you will be saving a fortune by not needing other products you used to purchase.
************ -Introduction- ************ Having previously flirted with a boring German Audi A3, danced with a curvy hot Spanish number, (no not Karimkha) the Seat Leon. I finally returned to my Italian roots and parted with some hard earned cash and purchased a +250bhp, 150mph Alfa Romeo Brera! I have owned this car for just over two years, and is to date the best car I have ever owned! 28,000 miles of pure motoring bliss are decribed below. Please read my review on the Alfa Brera! ****** -Costs- ****** Brand new the average price for one of these cars will set you back around £30,000 for a mid-range model, however being an Alfa they depreciate faster than a Zimbabwean Wage Slip! So definitely buy a second hand one I would say! I picked up my 3.2 V6 JTS Q4 (Qtronic) for just over £15,000 thanks to a loan from an Egg, and a very agree-able sales woman (mine was imported from Italy). Be warned though under current road tax laws in 'Labours Communist Britain', this will cost you a whopping £400 a year to keep parked on the road, let alone insure. It is however, worth every single penny. And driving this car, is a small price to pay for a tiny matter such as global warming. Anyway, rising sea levels will mean driving to the beach will take less time, and it will be warmer when you do get there, so its a good thing all round right? ******************** -General Appearance- ******************** Exterior; If there was a way of turning Pamela Anderson, Liv Tyler, Sophia Loren, Bo Derek, Jane Fonda, Audrey Taotou and every other sexy woman who has ever existed into a car, you would be left with a Ferrari and something quite closely resembling an Alfa Romeo Brera. Really it is just visually stunning from all angles, it truly is a work of art right up there with the La Gioconda (Mona Lisa), the dome of St Pauls, and the painted ceiling of the Cappella Sistina (Sistein Chapel). Even the designer has a sexy name. Giorgetto Giugaro. The long sweeping curves leading up to the imposing chiselled designed front, the exotic looking light clusters with bi-xenon lamps, and the curvy squat rear, just give the car a sure footed look, and an aggresive stance. Whereas the Chrysler Crossfire, who went for a similar look, ended up emulating the neighbours cat in a "im about to take a dump over your garden" stance. If they ever put a small enough engine into this thing, small enough for it to take part in the British Touring Car championship, you wouldn't need Gabriele Tarquini at the wheel to win the championship again, as in the 90's Alfa Romeo haydays, the other cars would literally fall of the road in fear of it. I almost omitted to mention the beautiful panoramic glass sun-roof, and mini-spoiler, which are just icing on the cake of what is an exceptionally beautiful car. Aside from the stunning looks, the clever design features are just evident throughout the bodywork, with little extra curves here and there. You can just imagine the dynamacsist up in arms, as the designer added those extra touches. However this is an Italian car, not a boring German machine, wind flow vortices, venturi points, drag coefficients, all take second place, to how much it will raise your blood pressure just by looking at it. Interior; The superlatives used to describe the outside don't stop once you get inside the car. More beautifully crafted detail is in abundance. No boring German efficient design, or dasboards designed by computers in here, this cockpit looks like it came out of a Boeing 747, but one styled by Sergio Pinnafarina. There is no mistaking your sitting in something which is going to thrill you, beyond your wildest dreams. Sure some of the switches are hard to reach while driving, I can't see one of them when turning left. But who cares, this is sexy stuff. And it was meant to look that way. This was designed by passionate people. People who make love for the hell of it, not just to make babies. This isn't a German ergonomically designed bore, its a red blooded stallion blowing steam from its nostrils. The leather seats even have stitch detailing throughout, not for any reason, other than it looks good. Two vents in the centre console would be efficient, this has three, because it matches the three dials (including wheel) across the main display. Even the steering itself, has three concentric rings. All these little details and touches just make it, what it is. Being more practical, fine the rear is cramped, don't get me wrong it looks perfect but I doubt you could comfortably sit in the back if your over or even approaching 6 foot, but it really doesn't matter, because I would rather be cramped up in the back, than have palatial room to stretch my legs in the back of the latest Mondeo. One thing I haven't yet mentioned is the glass roof, which obviously allows for exceptional lighting within the cockpit, making it very nice to drive on a dull day, it really adds to the sense of your surroundings, and what could be more beautiful than to stare up at the stars with your loved one (hopefully not while driving). Just remember if your getting carried away though, that there is a lack of room in the back though! *************** -Cars Best Bits - *************** First. The strangest thing is that this car has ISO fix points in the rear, as if anyone is going to soil this car by putting something like a baby or a small child inside. Pffft! While talking about strange, for some strange reason, this car has a heated front screen. Like a Ford Mondeo does. Clearly an engineer snuck these design features in, when the designer was out for lunch. Given the UK climate though, its incredibly handy! This though is where the similarity to anything resembling a normal car ends. The Engine without doubt is quite something special, not only does the V6 lump unleash more than 250 Italian Stallions, they gallop along merrily all the way to in excess of 150mph, if you were insane, and allowed them too. The really "best bit" though is the sound, its like having Thor the Norsk god of thunder slammed shut under the bonnet. You really don't ever tire of hearing the growling rasp startup when you power past 3,000 revs, if you keep your foot down, it will just sonically shake out all your fillings and burst ear drums. Notably though the fuel runs out quicker, alot quicker, but its worth it! The parking sensor, if you own something this beautiful you don't want to stack it when reversing. Also it comes in handy given that you can't see anything lower than 5 foot behind the car. Children, babies and dwarfs beware! Alfa Romeo red, is probably what adds even more enjoyment to owning the car, it just is such a passionate colour, it just makes the car orgasmic. Yes maybe talking about the paint seems strange, but to be honest owning something in Alfa red, is far superior then mentioning the clever electronics, like stability control, traction control, ABS, ABR, EBD, Brake Assist, the paddle shift qtronic gearbox, cruise control, push button starter, and even an airbag for your knees (I kid you not!). ******************** -Safety & Reliability- ******************** Not that any Italian Alfa Romeo would ever crash, but if it did, the clever people at Euro NCAP say that you will probably be OK. Given that they have given this a 4 star crash rating. Don't forget the crash rating is classified in class groups. So if this car crashed into a 5 star rated but lower classed 'smart car', no prizes for guessing the outcome. I don't see what is 'smart' about risking your life. And unless you crash into a bumble bee, a feather, or a rather large snowflake, that 5 star rating isn't going to help. Reliability was a huge concern when I purchased this car, I know the early Alfa's had horrendous problems with a) rust, and b) electronics. Given that this car is brimming with electronics I was exceptionally worried. Touch wood, but this car has been rock solid for the 28 or so thousand miles I have clocked up in it, and not so much as a warning light has flickered so far. Other than the irratating seat-belt sign one that is. Longer term the trend for reliability looks good, with Alfa Romeos reputation slowly but steadily improving. They don't even rust these days! **************** -Servicing Costs- **************** After being monetarily raped, by the ever so efficient German car makers Audi in the recent past, I was pleased to see that the Italian Mafia isn't yet controlling the car servicing departments of Alfa Romeo dealers. A service at my local approved dealer, actually cost less than £200. Which isn't cheap, but was quite amazing given its a V6 engine they were tinkering with. ********************************* -Driving Experience and Summary- ********************************* This isn't a cheap car, I grant you. It is however as a second hand car as affordable as any other medium end cars of this specification. What an Alfa Romeo gives you though is Italian passion, and Italian design know-how, a thrill every time you turn the key (well press the ignition button) and hear the V6 growl into life. Alfa Romeos have always been reknowned for their engine note, and racing feel hence the motto of Cuore Sportivo (racing heart) but this car takes the biscuit. It could most definitely give you an orgasm as you sure footedly go round a corner that little bit to fast, and it definitely will as all fours wheels bite into the tarmac pushing you back into your seat, as you hurtle out of it. In essesence though it isn't just all thrills, or even about thrills at all, this is a very driveable everday car. Just one that is jaw droppingly beautiful. Driven carefully the car is even quite placid, comfortable and BMW, or AUDI-like, in the way it efficiently goes about its business, and giving you a supported ride. For a coupe sized car, the boot is gargantuan, huge, so you could pop along to Tesco as I do, and fill it with your weekly shop. All in all, I couldn't recommend a nicer Alfa Romeo out of the modern era, and it probably would even impress the afficinados of the classics.
************ -Introduction- ************ I owned the Audi A3 1.8T Sport for 4 years, I purchased the car from new. At this point I need to make it clear and state that I am not Jeremy Clarkson, I didn't race this car around a track, or drop it from a height, nor did I destroy any caravans in the making of this dooyoo review. I did however clock up over 80,000 miles in this car, had it serviced according to the schedule at the main dealer, and so I am, in my opinion qualified to tell other people about it. If you are reading this review you are probably looking to buy this car second hand, so I hope this review is of some use to you. ***** -Cost- ***** The model A3 1.8T sport, cost me around £18,000 in 2001, but today, you can pick a decent one up for around £4 - 6,000 depending on mileage. ******************** -General Appearance- ******************** Exterior; At the time (2001) the car was outwardly contemporary, having a look of a posh VW Golf about it, a car that would look as good, if not more stylish, than its more expensive german counterparts in the firms car park. I suppose it has aged rather well, it does look a little dated, I grant you that. It isn't to bad though if you were considering buying one even now. The main attractive feature is the rounded curves, and smooth lines provided by having only two main doors. Giving the car a more refined appearance, and beefier wider girth than the comparable cars in its class. However, considering the car has 17" wheels, 150 horses, a 0-60 time of 8 point something seconds, a realistic top speed of 130mph, and is only two models down from the flagship S3 version. The car is very understated. Visually giving you no impression of what it is capable of. With only the small T, hinting that the car has a turbo (proper petrol car turbo, not a boring diesel turbo). Audi certainly don't do tack! No go faster stripes here, or ridiciolous spoilers, Audi do refinement, if thats not your bag, then this isn't the car for you. This is a car for people who are quietly confident, assured, like to be quietly understated, rather than acting like testosterone fueled monkeys (of all ages) wanting to demonstrate their virilty and size of manhood, via their wheels. Interior; The option I choose came with leather seats, heated of course! An these dominated the interior, giving the car an incredibly luxurious look and feel . The centre arm (also leather) raises up giving you more cabin space, and it even opens via a top lid, giving you more storage space. The cloth variety also looked stylish, albeit not the same effect, so I would recommend finding an example with leather. From the driving seat, you are confronted with a dash that looks plain yet refined, the central digital display panel, giving you all the information you need, ranging from time to next service, to engine status, to external temperature. You are even able to set speed warnings, to alert you if you stray over a set limit. The dials are beautifully made and just dont look cheap, (nestled either side of the digital display) as doesn't the quality plastics used overall. There is even an inlay of American walnut running across the dash, and down the centre console, giving the whole cabin even more refinement. The rear of the car is easily accessible, as at a touch of a button, the whole seat moves forward and leans down, giving you easy access. The seat also maintains memory of its position, and so returns back to its same setting when your done. Especially important if your the driver. I wouldn't consider the rear to be cramped, 5 adults can fit comfortably in the back, it certainly isn't a 2 +2 type car, the rear seats are usable. *************** -Cars Best Bits - *************** The best bits I am not going to reel off a list here, whats the point? But I will mention the most significant nerdy specs. EBD, Electronic Breakforce Distribution, - Basically means it evenly distributes and constantly adjusts the braking pressure to each individual wheel, making the braking more efficient, even on uneven surfaces. This coupled with ABS, means that this Audi can stop on a sixpence, almost literally. Best brakes I have ever used! ESP, no not Extra Sensory Perception, but Electronic Stability Programme or similar, - Basically it is a combination of traction control (no more wheel spinning) and a clever connection with the ABS, meaning that if you are driving in adverse weather you maintain control and traction of your vehicle around corners etc. It clevely detects a wheel trying to spin faster than the others, and gently applies the brakes to that wheel, bringing it into line with the others. This function can be switched off, but the dealer advised against it. Unless you want to drive off the road, and into a hedge that is! Climate Control - To me this is quite alien, it basically works the same way as air conditioning, except you type in the temperature desired, rather than twiddle a knob. If twiddling a knob is your thing (no smutty comments) then you won't like it. Personally I prefer fiddling with buttons so it suited me. The effect was the same as regular air conditioning, but it did cost an extra £1,000 or so. A great feature to look out for though! Bose Sound System - As an option this Audi can be installed with an 8 speaker Bose sound system (amazing sound), and comes with a 6 CD front loading stereo system, which is compatible with MP3 units (even back in 2001). ******************** -Safety & Reliability- ******************** The Audi A3, achieved a 4 star crash rating of Euro NCAP for occupants, meaning that for the time of manufacture 2001, it was one of the best of its size class. It is most definitely a rigid car, and feels very solid. There are also 6 air bags, and two side curtain airbags, should you decide to crash, you should be quite safe. Reliability considering its an Audi, was rather amazingly a problem for me. At the time of ownership Audi was having an issue with one of its manufacturers of ignition coils. They conveniently failed to tell me that while selling the car, I suppose it wouldn't be a good thing to mention during the sales patter. So anyway, during the first year of ownership I had to take the car back to the garage a total of 5 times to replace them. Which for a 4 cylinder car is quite amazing. The failing ignition coils didn't technically cause the car to breakdown, but they did make it sound sickly, and cause the dreaded engine ECU light to illuminate. Aside from this issue which has now been resolved by Audi (to my knowledge) there were no more gripes during my 4 years and 80,000 miles of owning the car. **************** -Servicing Costs- **************** If I was to say the word extortion. You might conjure up thoughts of the Mafia, or Eastend villains, but no, I am talking about main dealerships who see fit to charge over £100 per hour. Now I am not talking an hour with a high class hooker, I am talking about paying for an hour of work done by John the grease monkey. To give you an example, to have my front pads changed, and a full service it cost me £750! Wow, I said, did I drop off my Testarossa to be serviced? Or my A3? No it was just the cost for a plain Audi A3. Fortunately though the main services were only around every 40,000 miles, with an interim coming inbetween at every 20,000. Still expensive though, so if purchasing one second hand, do avoid the main dealers! Unfortuntaly for me, I had no choice because of the new car warranty, and living nowhere near an alteranative dealer. ********************************* -Driving Experience and Summary- ********************************* When driving normally, the car was undenibaly dull, mind numbingly dull. It was like floating around on a cloud, wafting, billowing around aimlessly, devoid of emotion. There was such a huge detachment from driver to wheels, it was surreal. Having since driven BMW's, and Mercedes, I now know thats the german way. Which is why the sport derivatives of those German cars are so exciting in comparison. So if like me you had previously owned (and now own again) an Alfa Romeo, a real drivers car, an Italian car, a car that screams at you, a car that speaks to your soul. Your going to be bitterly dissapointed. The Italians like passion, excitment, lust, whereas clearly the Germans, like their Austrian counterparts, enjoy a more refined drive, quitely, aimlessly, a softly softly approach to driving. They enjoy wafting around listening to classical music, thinking (probably, about what family member to lock up in the basement next). This isn't to say that the car isn't quite impressive in acceleration, the comforting whistle from the turbo lets you know your moving along swiftly, but the feelings from the car, don't inspire excitment, passion, or lust, or make you feel like your about to die. You won't get home and want to make love after driving this car, you'll just want to soak in the bath, smoke a pipe, put on some slippers, and go off to bed. It does everything well, just disspassionately, effieciency is the name of the game. However if the German effieciency, and approach to life, is for you, then this is certainly your car. Me, well i'm most definitely an Alfa Romeo man!
************* -About Lettuce- ************* Lettuce or Lactuca Sativa to call it by its latin name, is surprisingly actually part of the large daisy family of plants. So, yes the humble white daisy annoyingly growing amongst your otherwise prestine lawn is a genetic cousin of that Iceberg lettuce you had earlier consumed in your McDonalds burger! Strange but true! Another strange fact, is that lettuce contains a substance called Lactucarium, which is found mainly in the base of the stem, and is an opiate related compound, which can induce sedative and analgesic reactions, as well as feelings of euphoria. Reputedly. The Romans used to eat large quantities of lettuce at the end of meals, to help them sleep, and invoke states of euphoria some hours later. No doubt this is why they became reknowned for their legendary orgies and collections of erotica. And all this down to the humble lettuce! However despite this, it is commonly cultivated and consumed in a form and purpose which we will all recognise, namely a leafy edible plant. ************ -Availability- ************ Lettuces are available practically everywhere, there is a difference between lettuces though, and more specifically a good lettuce is a rarity; you have to either grow it yourself, or hunt down one at a good farmers market. I can not emphasis enough the difference between a bag of ready chopped tasteless lettuce from a supermarket, which requires dressing with strong flavours, and the superlative flavours from something which has character which has been grown naturally, which requires little more than good oil and lemon juice. This however is very hard to rationalise in text, and sounds absurd. Once you have tasted the difference though, you will know what I mean. *************** -Types of Lettuce- *************** Typically Lettuces fall into a number of growing types, these are then divided further into the actual individiual cultivar varieities, of which there are literally hundreds around the world: -Open butter head varieties; These are essentially lettuces that have willowly billowly leaves, and grow into a "head" but are quite loose and floppy, things like lollo rossa, that kind of thing etc. -Compacts, or Closed Heads; These are lettuces which form definite closed compact heads, and are usually quite firm, things like Romaines, Icebergs, Little Gems etc. -Cutting Lettuce; These don't normally form finite heads, but are an open style of growth, and/or are solely cultivated for the harvest of the leaf with no stem, for example lambs tongue. etc. There is some cross-over amongst these too, for example if harvested early things like lollo rosso can be considered a cutting lettuce. Aside from these main types, and despite the supermarkets lack of choices, there are as earlier mentioned literally hundres of types of lettuces to eat. There is so much more to lettuce than the dreaded tasteless Iceberg, or the floppy Lollo Rossa. There are some which barely resemble lettuce at all, while others which are best cooked. Etc. *************** -Grow your Own- *************** As mentioned earlier, the supermarkets really do have limited choices when it comes to fresh vegetables, and one of the biggest victims is the humble lettuce. My advice would be to grow your own, they are embarassingly easy to grow, will grow practically anywhere, in any soil type, are not nutrient greedy, or deep rooted, and can be grown year round. In scorching summer heat, and even outside in Winter! It is just a qusetion of variety. It does amaze me, that so many people only assosciate lettuce with spring. So please do take a look at other types. Suggestions for different times of year: Spring: Little Gem, Cos, Reggina Di Maggio, Rossa Ricciolina Summer: Lolla Rossa, Romaine Bionda, Passione Brune Autumn: Oak Leaf Lettuce, Pesciatina, Four Seasons Lettuce Winter: Meraviglia D'Inverno, Rouge De Montpellier How to Grow: ------------------- 1. Prepare:- a suitable area to sow, literally just a case of a quick rake over, removing large stones, or preparing a pot or container to grow them in. If you are growing in winter, start them off under cover, but once they are in-leaf, they are fine outside. Normally you would start off winter lettuces in the autumn. 2. Sow:- Sowing is just a casual affair, you don't need to specifically plant seeds individually just scatter at random, and lightly dust with soil, or rake them over, and lightly water. 2. Thin Down :- Pluck out weedy looking individuals (lifes so unfair), and leave room for the others to grow. 3. Harvest :- Somewhere between 4-6 weeks after planting your lettuce can be harvested, you can actually harvest at anytime once main leaves have formed. Pests: --------- The main pests are slugs and snails, the best advice is to sparingly use Slug Pellets, organic gardeners look away!!! You can try beer traps, or frolicking around outside after dark with a torch. Whatever floats your boat. Far from me to spoil your fun. But I would rather scatter a few pellets, and then clean away the corpses. ********************** -Culinary Uses and Health- ********************** Aside from the very obvious salad, lettuce can and does feature alot in cooked recipes. Ranging from Italian Risottos, Soups, and of course Chinese dishes. One of my favourites is using pork mince seasoned with soy, hoisin sauce, chilli garlic, ginger, and green onions and gently folding this mixture intothe middle of fresh lettuce leaves. You then eat it, hot, as if its some kind of green burrito. Another nice one, is lettuce shredded and added to a bean soup, if you add it in the last five to ten minutes, you still get some firmness in the crisper parts, although it is completely cooked through. From a health perspective, probably the most significant is the assosciation with lettuce and calories (lack of). It is however also a good source of folic acid, fibre and various vitamins. So Enjoy!
******************************** -The Shocking Story of Wasting Money?- ******************************** Here is a shocking fact that many of us are guilty of. If you currently purchase Dettol Anti-bacterial Sprays, or the Cif ones, or even the Anthony Worral Thompson Fresh and Green Anti-bacterial all purpose cleaner. And yes there is nothing celebrity chefs seemingly won't endorse for cash. You are wasting money, in fact over a £1 for each purchase. Why do I say that, well the purpose of an Anti-Bacterial cleaining spray, is to well clean, and to be Anti-Bacterial. Given that the Tesco Anti-Bacterial cleaning spray contains near identical ingredients to the aforementioned products, you might be surprised to hear that 500ml, will cost you a cool £1, compared to over £2 for the others. ******************** -Where Can It Be Used?- ******************** In a word, Everywhere! I remember growing up in a home where we had a seperate bathroom cleaning product, and a seperate kitchen cleaning product, and a third for cleaning other surfaces. Yet give or take a few elements, these products all contained principally similar ingredients. Those ridicolous days are now cosigned to the past thankfully, a bit like those anally retentive people who concentrate on grammer and spellings. And other than lurking and lingering in a few places; such as under rocks, the fast lane of the M4, and internet review websites we rarely these days encounter them. My point? Well, in these MODERN times, where "txt" speak is accepted and understood by those 90 and under, where silly grammatical symbols arent (aren't) needed to measure ones intelligence or class, the same cleaner CAN be used everywhere. And this product is the perfect all-in-one solution. From the kitchen, the bathroom, sanitizing a pet piddle on the living room laminate, to even ensuring nursery surfaces are hygenically clean for babies to crawl over, this product can do it all. ****************** -Does It Do The Job? ****************** Well aside from the anti-bacterial claims which one has to consider a given (especially as the product contains soaps, and a bleach agent). It has to be said, but the Tesco Anti-Bacterial cleaner does actually work. It is more than capable of cutting through grime, grease, and recent limescale deposits no problem at all. Making it ideal for cleanup jobs big and small. In use, I find it doesn't even need to be left to soak to work, one spray and a wipe does the trick. Another positive I like is that it doesn't have an overly strong fragrance, I mean who wants the reek of artificial cleaner up their nose, I certainly don't. On tougher dried on grime, it does need to soak for a while, this is probably where the more expensive detergent cleaners might come into their own. Lets face it however, on most occasions this type of cleaning product is just used to lightly clean, rather than clean a surface from hell with dried filth and grime. So the extra cleaning power possibly available by using one of the other more expensive cleaners, essentially is superflous. ********** -Summary- ********** Given the satisfactory job at both cleaning and sanitzing that this product does, and given that it costs a £1 per volume cheaper than its rivals. I would not hesistate to recommend using Tesco AntiBacterial Cleaner around the home. I would also say, don't be fooled by claims on other products about killing viruses. It is a fact that things like the flu virus can be killed by simple soap and water, so taking into account that Tesco AntiBacterial has tougher elements than mere soap. You can safely say "Asta La Vista, baby" to contact surface viruses. SOOOO Save your money, and give it a try!
********** -What is it?- ********** Cauldron Tofu, is a packaged organic Tofu, consisting of a 250g block sealed in its own juices in a plastic packet. It is probably easiest if you think of Tofu as essentially a type of cheese. The big difference is that it is made from bean curds rather than a dairy product. And is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing it into blocks. Tofu is considered by many to be healthy, and is an excellent carrier of other flavours, it it high in protein, and low in salt, sugar, and saturated fats. And of course it is perfect for vegetarians! ******************** -How much does it Cost?- ******************** Cauldron Tofu, will cost you between £1.66 and £1.68 in the big four supermarkets. (price correct at time of writing, source: mysupermarket.co.uk) This is for a 250g weight, Tofu block. Approximately this will serve 4-6 persons, dependant upon what your using it for. A little does go along way though, as it is protein rich. ********************* -Why can you do with it?- ********************* To say that Tofu is tasteless, is not being mean, because it quite frankly is. And nobody can say otherwise. I mean I have chewed on cardboard that has more flavour. It makes Iceberg lettuce taste like white truffle. Having no taste, and a texture akin to coagulated slimey mucus scraped from the back of a toad, is however not a bad thing. Not a bad thing, because Tofu is used principally as a flavour carrier, and without hindering flavours with a flavour of its own, its absolutely easy to balance the meal to taste perfect. Another bonus is that, Tofu packs the same appetite quenching protein hit, without all the negatives of eating meat. Typically I have mainly only seen it used in oriental cuisine, and I have to say, that in a stir fry with other strong flavours, it is absolutely delicious. As an idea, try stir frying finely sliced chilli, garlic and ginger in a wok, add some chunks of Tofu, then add Soy Sauce, some Oyster Sauce, some finely sliced carrott, some finely sliced red pepper, some spring onions cut into diamonds, add some seasoning. Finish a few minutes later by adding some cooked rice noodles, some more finely sliced chilli, and add a drizzle of Sesame Oil and more Soy Sauce just before serving. It is quite lovely, and surprisngly tastes no different to the rest of the dish. Highlighting its flavour carrying characteristics. ********* -Summary- ********* Although not the cheapest way of getting protein into your diet, it is a rather healthy way to do so. And with it being quite filling, I would say that the 250g block should do at least 4-6 portions. Which makes it quite good value compared to something like chicken breast for example. As a bonus, you can freeze this Tofu. I recommend cutting it into bite size squares prior to freezing, and making sure you thoroughly dry the Tofu prior to portioning it. In fact I recommend thoroughly drying Tofu even before cooking, as it helps flavours to stick. When it comes to utilizing Tofu as an ingredient, I would say that its inert flavour is particularly beneficial to being used in oriental cuisine, rather than a hinderance being tasteless means no nasty clashes are possible. But it does need strong flavours to work well, and I find crisping the outer surface by stir frying improves the texture. Compared to other brands I have tried, Cauldron is amongst the best. The Tofu isn't overly crumbly, holds together well during cooking, and is nicely packaged as a block.
~+~+~+~+~ +Overview+ ~+~+~+~+~ From Seed to Plate, is an Italian Cook Book with a difference. As a 'follow-on' to my Seeds of Italy website review, this is a review of the websites accompanying cookbook . (Which I didn't even know existed). Now I know what your thinking, given who the author is. This book is just going to be one great big advertising campaign, for the Seeds of Italy website. Well. Actually it isn't. Far from it! The book maintains complete impartiality with only a brief mention of Seeds of Italy on the first page where the author talks about his past. In fact many of the vegetables listed are not actually Italian varieties at all, and if your only interest is in eating, rather than in the growing it won't affect your enjoyment of this book. If you like Italian food, you will love this book. It is written by the owner of Seeds of Italy, Paolo Arrigo, and is excellent value costing around £15 for the 200+ page, hardback version. It is available from the authors website, Amazon, and similar online retailers. ISBN: 978-1847373076 ~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~ +First Impressions & Layout+ ~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~ To be honest, most cookbooks I had seen, largely follow the same format. A brief forward, and then recipes divided up into sections such as meats, vegetables, pastas etc. Usually these recipes have an accompanying narrative, and depending on the author, it may, or may not be entertaining. So upon recieving this book as a gift for Christmas I wasn't expecting to be overly impressed, excited or indeed even pleased. I was not expecting to see or read anything new, or very different from what I had previously seen or read countless times before. The thing which really stuck out for me instantly though, was the heart warming foreword. It details the history and passion behind Italian cuisine, and why the reputation for sowing seeds (literally) and growing things, is well deserved, when thinking of Italian culture. There wasn't any arrogance, or patronizing tones, it was just a friendly banter, setting you at ease and sparking an interest as to what the book would contain. It also bestows upon the author some credibility, as to how and why he is authoring a cook book. Surely after reading the heart felt passages, this book was written by a man who loves food, and loves sharing his excitment. Upon thumbing further into the book, I then also immediately noticed, that this book is not laid out in a typical fashion. It is refreshingly actually based and organized around the amazing varieties of Italian produce. And probably rather obviously (given the author) has a great deal of growing tips, and recommendations for varieties to try. The book also touches on the aspect of regionality in Italy, which for any afficanado of Italian culutre will know, is paramount to authentic Italian cooking. This book sort of bridges a gap between cooking and the history and sourcing of ingredients. Sadly thanks to the fascination with supermarkets, the assosciation between ingredients and cooking is often lost these days. This book however, strikingly addresses that important fact. Although I have to emphasize that the feel of this book, is very much of a cook book, rather than a gardening journal. So it will appeal to the cook moreso than the gardener. How it achieves this, is by seamlessly incorporating text about the ingredients, together with the actual cooking of it. CLEVER Stuff! Quite impressively there is also an assortment of recipes from some celebrity chefs, or prestigious eateries, sharing their secrets. All of this is presented in a non patronizing, non pretentious way, and quite frankly all the recipes and growing tips are all very easy to follow, and friendly. The layout is clear and simple, and is nicely illustrated throughout. ~+~+~+~+~+~ +The Recipes+ ~+~+~+~+~+~ When all things are considered the main purpose of a cook book, is to contain usable recipes, and to provide inspiration to actually cook them. Sure some entertaining commentary is nice, but the real proof of the pudding (as they say) is indeed in the eating. Given that I was familiar with alot of the recipes (being Italian), I have to say that most of the recipes are very authentic, and the accompanying texts are very accurate. My one dislike is that in one or two recipes I noticed the author doesn't give specific quantities, which is fine if you know how to cook, but it would be nice to give a reference for those who are unsure, about the ratios needed. I suppose though, how much salt you add, or how much water to loosen a sauce, is a personal thing and as such it is hard to quantify. So yes I am being quite picky here, but it was the only thing which otherwise ruined complete perfection. Praise indeed. To my mind alot of cook books end up gathering dust on book shelves, because the majority of the recipes call for semi exotic ingredients, or complex processes which may make for an interesting read, but without a huge amount of effort can't be created easily, or on a whim. In other words you have to plan to make those, whereas this book however holds true to real Italian cooking, and practically all the ingredients are generally basic storecupboard favourites. Another plus point, and another reason why this cook book will get used alot. Is the number of recipes which require comparively little cooking time. For example, one recipe, calls for nothing more than broadbeans, onions and cooked pasta. Less than fifteen minutes is all that will take. Can this really taste as good as the book describes, well try it and see. Certainly a recipe we have eaten at home for a long time, albeit with sometimes use peas. In my opinion the recipes found in "From Seed To Plate" really won't dissapoint any lover of Italian food. ~+~+~+~+~ +Summary+ ~+~+~+~+~ While I do grow a few bits and pieces, vegetables that probably most Italians do, things like various varieties of tomatoes, basil, artichokes, radicchio, escarole etc. I am not a keen gardener by any means, nor do I spend hours pawing over gardening books, or getting my hands dirty digging soil. I do however love to cook, and learning about what ingredients work best, which is the only reason why I grow things. Fortunately the popularity of organic produce has seen local farm shops getting busier, and hopefully books such as this one, will increase that further. In my opinion this book goes a huge way towards re-educating us into the joys of regionality and variety. Not only of Italian produce, but getting the most of what is available locally, in our own areas. Despite the supermarkets best efforts to increase their own profits by stifling our choice, and despite the fact that they have almost single handedly dissassociated our perception of ingredients and cooking. And created a culture of ready made meals and convenience. Fortunately I am not alone in wanting interesting varieties, and ones with taste, instead of the supermarket inspired uniformly shaped carrots, bland cloned tastless tomatoes, and sterile lettuces neatly cut, and packaged in plastic. All of which would not have seen the light of day 50 years ago. As said however, this book is not about gardening. This book is not on a Jamie Oliver-esque crusade. It is most definitely a cook book, plain and simple. And in that respect it succeeds hugely. It also succeeds in its novel layout, and attitude towards cooking and its ability to inspire you to cook. A fantastic book, written by an Italian who understands and values ingredients, and a book specifically aimed for people who love real Italian food. In summary, "From Seed To Plate" is a real diamond amongst the literary coals.
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ +The Myth Debunked+ ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ The first thing to say about Pizza, is that Pizza is an Italian or more specifically a Neapolitan (from Naples) creation, and not American, in any way, shape, or form. In addition, it has to be said that the Pizza you get from most takeaway chains, most of which are American in origin, are plain awful. The bases are vile and artifical. Basically tasting as if they are made from the contents of vacuum cleaners, and pure salt. This is then compounded, by the toppings and sauces ranging from barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, pineapple, chicken curry, jalapenos. All of which DO NOT belong on a real Pizza. OK I grant you, these Pizza's may taste nice, they are certainly convenient. I am not even unduly knocking what is essentially a part of culture in many parts of the world. Is it however, a real Pizza? Would Italians recognize it as a Pizza? The answer has to be an undisputable, No! No Way! Far from being a relatively healthy meal, most Pizzas from a takeaway, cheaper chains, or in the frozen food aisles of supermarkets have been turned into salt laden, artery clogging affairs. In all honesty I would strongly urge people to avoid these, other than the rare occasional treats. Certainly NEVER poison your children by feeding them these vile creations too often, as unfortunately many parents seem to enjoy doing. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~ +The Real Deal + ~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Now think of a Neapolitan Pizza, a freshly made ultra thin base, using fresh ingredients. Think of a freshly made sauce using fresh garlic, real tomatoes, and herbs. Think of real fresh mozarella torn into pieces over the top. And finally think of all this being placed into an exceptionally hot, wood burning, clay oven. Do you suppose the ever so slightly smokey (slightly charred in places) base, and beautiful fresh herby tomatoey tasting topping has any similarity to the aforementioned American variety, NO., Absolutely not. However with a tiny bit of effort you can create an Italian pizza in your home oven. A Pizza which is healthy to eat, and a million miles away from the awful ready made ones. I admit, very few people (although I do) are going to own, or have a clay oven in their back garden, but modern home ovens are capable of reaching fairly high temperatures, and a whole host of special pizza baking trays are available. So as I want to demonstrate here, absolutely excellent results are achieveable at home. The taste is pretty close to what you could enjoy on the Amalfi coast, at a fraction of the price of a resturaunt, and as is the case with all Italian recipes, VERY little effort is needed. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ +Making the Pizza+ ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ +Ingredients+ (for 2 large 12" square pizza's) SIMPLE PIZZA DOUGH: 1/2 teaspoon of fast acting dried yeast (like the stuff you would use in a breadmaker) 300g (11 ounces) Strong white flour 1 teaspoon of salt 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil 150ml Water PIZZA SAUCE: 1 teaspoon of olive oil 400g tomatoes 1 teaspoon of dried Oregano 2-3 cloves of garlic finely diced, or grated 2 tablespoons of Tomato Puree Salt and Pepper (to season to taste) PIZZA TOPPINGS: This is a matter of conjecture, you can in theory add whatever you wish, to be traditional though why not make a simple Margherita Pizza. Delicious and cheap, and to most peoples tastes. 1 Mozeralla ball torn into small pieces Dozen or so Basil leaves torn up Some Olive oil, Freshly greated parmesan to sprinkle before baking (optional) As mentioned though, you can add any of your favourite ingredients on top, imagination is your only limit. +Method+ -The Pizza Dough; OK there a million methods of doing this, you can do this by hand, in a food processor, or even in a breadmaker. Essentially you mix together all the ingredients, and allow for leaving the dough in a warm place to "prove" for around 20 minutes. Basically you want the dough to stretch slightly in size. While your waiting for proving, you can prepare your topping sauce as in the next step. -Heat the olive oil, and throw in the sauce ingredients, stir, and allow to gently simmer for around 20 minutes. Then switch off the heat, and allow to cool slightly. As mentioned. You can make this sauce while you are waiting for your to dough to prove. Or you can make an extra large batch, and portion it, and freeze it for next time. Just obviously defrost thoroughly first. -Once all your ingredients are ready, preheat your oven, and pizza tray. It is important you heat your pizza tray. Turn the oven upto around 475 Farenheit which is Gas 9, or higher, if your oven allows. If you do not have a fan assisted oven, arrange your shelves, so that the pizza can go in at the very top. At this point MAKE SURE ALL your ingredients are to hand, and can be quickly applied to the pizza, when needed in the next couple of steps. -Next cut your dough into two halves. With a little light dusting of flour, stretch and work each half seperately, so that they form a very thin base, and will fit onto whatever tray your using. Use your best judgement, but it should feel very thin, like paper almost. -USING OVEN GLOVES, remove your hot pizza tray, and quickly onto it, (using caution) place your pizza dough upon it, stretch it out as needed. The tray needs to be hot to prevent sticking, and to ensure a crisp base! Nobody likes a soggy bottom! -Next drizzle the base with a little oil, and quickly smear over your sauce (not too much, not to wet), and finally add the toppings, waste as little time as you can, aim to get the pizza into the oven within a minute of removing the heated tray. Hotter and quicker you work, the better. -After about 10-12 minutes baking in that hot oven, your pizza will be ready. I like it slightly charred, but obviously use your judgement. The beauty of baking at a high temp, means that the base wil be well done, but still pliable. This is also another important reason why the base NEEDS to be thin. Once your happy, slice it up with a pizza roller, or a knife, share and eat while hot to enjoy at its best! Although cold pizza isn't too bad neither! Enjoy it!
~+~+~+~+~~+~+~ +Background+ ~+~+~+~+~~+~+~ Despite the 2009 recession busting idea of renaming a variant of the humble flu, "H1N1" or "Swine Flu" and scaring everyone into thinking we are about to die, and governments into stock piling side-effect ridden anti-virals and paying non medically trained staff to issue them like sweets to everyone with a sniffle. Not to mention the nation wide vaccination (experiment?) effort currently taking place. The media hype etc. etc. And etc. Many people still seem to have been at it this year! Despite the pandemic! Many people I know are about to be having babies, thinking about making them, or like my brothers wife just had one. With a recent addition to the tribe requiring urgent transportation, I somehow got roped into the task of assisting. After applying a bit of male perspective and objectiveness to the purchase, and having previously spent many an hour getting dragged around playing with, pushing, subjected to cursing, followed by "how much", and just generally trying to help and somehow understand, the whole confusing world that is choosing a pram. I instead steered my sister-in-law clear of the likes of Mothercare and its £400+ travel systems, and the numerous other over priced equivalents, and instead "took" to the internet to research for some sensible alternatives! Thankfully for the review conscious shopper, better options are out there, and huge savings can be made. ~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~ +General Details+ ~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~ This Pramette/Stroller is made by a not so well known UK based company called "Obaby" Who make a range of other products. Their main design ethos appears to be based around style, innovation, practicality and budget. This fact is quite evident in most of their product range, with the use of vibrant colours, quality materials, and innovatative design touches. The Obaby Zezu Pramette, is a good example of this, with their clever combination of the hybrid stroller and carrycot system. I am not sure if this is absolutely unique to the Obaby design, but it isn't something I have seen as a common feature on this type of product made by other manufacturers. With just a few clicks and gentle pushes it can smoothly and easily transform from a traditional parent facing pram, to a stylish looking forward facing Stroller. If the parent prefers however, this can also be used as a parent facing stroller. The unit is suitable from birth, all the way through to approximately 3-4 years of age (15kg). The Item can be purchased as the prammette Stroller, or in combination with the Obaby Infant car seat as a total travel system solution. General Dimensions are on the manufactuers website, but is, as a guide the size of the Mothercare MyChoice Pram system. Rest assured though it is much cheaper. ~+~+~+~+~+~+~ +What you Get+ ~+~+~+~+~+~+~ The total travel system which was the option chosen, consisted of the "from birth" easy click car seat. Which conforms to all Uk standards, is rear facing etc. A rain cover, which is basically a clear plastic cover which fits over the whole unit and is attached via velcro at fixed points on the pram chassis. The main chassis unit and front and rear wheels, you'll be amazed how large the rear pneumatic tyres are! Lastly you get the convertible pram/stroller seat unit, hood, and padded washable pram liner. One point worth making to a prospective purchaser is that no baby head support is included for use in pram mode. Fortunately she had a spare which could be used, but otherwise a worthy point to make. Apparently our heads wobble when we are little, strange! ~+~+~+~+~ +Assembly+ ~+~+~+~+~ To say this could be assembled by a chimpanzee is no slight on my sister-in-law, who although blonde, managed to assemble this without asking a single question of anyone, and strangely without even consulting the literature provided. However, as always when assembling something which might be critical, considering what the cargo is, I would strongly advise reading the instructions and safety notes first!! But. Basically you unfold the chassis frame, attach the adjustable handle with foam grips, clip on the wheels, click into the place pram/seat unit and your done. The wheels and attachments are even colour coded, so you can't place a left wheel on the right hand side etc. Why does that matter you ask? That's because the wheels have a special camber angle to aid aiglity, and the axle and wheels have been produced as matched pairs. One point worth mentioning here, is that although we did not notice any potential places for tiny fingers to get caught or trapped there undoubtedly are, so before opening or closing the chasis unit, keep your, and your children/babies fingers well away from the hinge mechanism. Most of the hinge is sheathed safely behind black plastic, but worth pointing out! ~+~+~+~+~+~ +Appearance+ ~+~+~+~+~+~ Once assembled, and either in stroller, pram, or travel system mode, this thing looks pretty impressive for a pram! My brother and his wife were over the moon when they first saw it assembled! The option they chose was black/red as pictured above. However these do come in a range of colours including green/black, blue/black and pink/black. The thing that makes the pram striking, is the attention to detail. In particular in red/black it looks like it has been designed by Sergio Pininfarina. The clever effect of having the padded part of the stroller looking like carbon fibre mesh. The pin striping around the harness, and the red flash of the inside of the hood. Just give it a "sports" car type look. Even in parent facing pram mode it looks sexy, it has a sleek curve, and width stitched panneling giving the impression of strength and quality. However in my opinion, its not a chav-esque equivalent of a big bore exhaust on a Citroen Saxo, its more of a wide gait, and indescript badge of the M3. More of subtle thoughts and hints, rather than shouting and screaming in your face. ~+~+~+~ +Weight+ ~+~+~+~ This is not a light weight pram, however is that really a disadvantage. If your purchasing this type of pram with the large rear pneumatic tyres your not going to the be the city type, that needs to only pop along around the corner, and light weight is all that matters. Your going to be using this for hard work, all terrain, long distances, in and out of the car etc. It isn't designed to be a lightweight, folding butterfly. The Pram comes in at around 15kg. Which is heavy in my book. However as my sister-in-law pointed out, she rarely needs to lift it, and when you consider the weight of the shopping bags she lifts into the car, this pales into insignificance. So basically this is no light weight, but you wouldn't expect a Mini and a Range Rover to weigh the same neither. ~+~+~+~ +Quality+ ~+~+~+~ The quality and feel of all the parts (and Uncle Luigi touched most of them) is undoubtedly good. The plastics used are better quality than some of the stuff used in my Alfa Romeo. The fabrics, feel tough and durable. The kickpad area of the stroller, where undoubtedly dirty feet are going to be kicking in years to come, looks very hard wearing, and is in any case fully washable. The metal frame, and hinge look sturdy and heavy duty. I found no areas that I could be negative about, my sister-in-law is still in love with the thing, and my brother is still happy about saving a few hundred pounds. Durability however is unknown. The pram has been in use for a couple of months, of course being the doting Uncle I have pushed the thing around, and assuredly im told nothing has broken, faded, or worn out. Yes it is a question mark, but given the quality, I would expect the pram to be able to handle some heavy usage without any problems. Normally, if something feels and looks sturdy and of good quality, it normally is going to last. Although do avoid icebergs if crossing the Atlantic! That's always good advice! ~+~+~ +Cost+ ~+~+~ The cost ranges from £270 as a travel system on Kiddicare (price paid in July) or for a reduced £197 for the Pram/Stroller system only. However shop around as on some websites £300 is being quoted for just the pram unit. Is that a good price? Compared to the similar looking and feeling prams available in most of the high street shops, with a similar specification, this is at least several hundred pounds cheaper. ~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~~+~+~ +Test Drive, Used in Anger+ ~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~+~~+~+~ Forget about everything else that has been said so far, (for now) this is by far the most important section. My sister-in-law, was so happy with her pram travel system she helped complete and input the rating/criteria for key areas. Unfortunately the experience is only for a pram, not as a stroller, but most criteria will appply. Folding/Unfolding: Seeing as this was going to be taken in and out of the car very often, this was a key area. This folds very easily by first removing the seat unit by clicking two buttons, and by then folding the chassis down. In my siter-in-laws Ford Fiesta this takes up less than a quarter of the boot in footprint size. Reversing the procedure is just as simple and little effort is needed. Compared to some other products tried, this is dead easy to use. Rated: 8/10 Maneuverability: Given the pram is quite bulky, it does surprisingly turn and twist very easily. You can turn the thing around on the spot. Rated: 10/10 Ride/Push Comfort: All of the harnesses are easy to use, and secure. The handle is a slight weak spot, the angle is adjustable but the height/length ratio didn't feel right until alot of adjustment. However it is very pleasant to push once sorted. The large rear pneumatic wheels make lifting up over kerbs, or down them a doddle, and baby sleeps through the lot. Considering this thing is quite heavy, it really is effortless to get moving, or slow down and change of direction is no problem. Rated: 7/10 Terrain/braking system: Living quite near parks, open fields as we do. The pram does get pushed over grass, mud, loose gravel, and rough ground fairly frequently. To be honest there is not much noticeable difference in handling. If we are going to the beach, we do lock the front wheels as it is easier on sand, but other than that it handles everything easily. The brakes are easily applied using your feet, and lock the rear wheels tightly, I have no doubt they would work on an incline, but I would only recommend relying on them, on level ground. Rated: 9/10 Travel System: As a travel system this is perfect, baby can be taken out of the car, still in the seat, and clipped straight into the pram chassis. Without the need for fussing around with clips and buckles, or spacers as with some other travel systems. Rated: 10/10 ~+~+~+~ +Summary+ ~+~+~+~ In my experience many companies which concentrate hard producing stylish products, often have a loss of focus on practicality, value, and relevance. In the Obaby Zezu pramette there is certainly no case of Style over substance, as this unit I think is a real stonker. Exceptional value and quality, and seems to sell out as soon as it gets re-stocked. Go check out their website!