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J. Dawson (Edinburgh, UK)
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Chinese Unchopped
Chinese Unchopped
by Jeremy Pang
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive intro to the essentials of Chinese cooking, 18 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Chinese Unchopped (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'll start this review with a confession - I've not yet cooked any of the recipes in this book. So how can I rate it so highly without a test drive? Because for me - as with, I suspect, many readers - the techniques outlined here are probably more important than the food itself.

I love Chinese cooking and have read, sampled and experimented with a wide range of east Asian cuisines, but my attempts at home stir fries are usually disappointing compared to even a decent takeaway. Whatever I do, it just never tastes quite the same as in my favourite Chinese restaurants. Just from reading the intro to Jeremy Pang's book, I have begun to understand why. Even without the recipe section, the comprehensive breakdown of essential information like how to prepare the ingredients for a stir fry, how to season a wok, how to control the heat of your wok on a domestic hob and the detailing of essential ingredients (handily divided into "Level one" which many kitchens will contain most of anyway, and "Level two" which are more specialist), including what can sometimes seem like an overwhelming variety of noodles and rice. I've read many times about how to season a wok and how hot it should be, but Pang includes helpful illustrations and really takes the time to explain everything so you know the why as well as the how. I particularly love that he even addresses one pet peeve of mine specifically - how to distribute your other ingredients evenly throughout your noodles!

Some of this information may prove daunting, especially if you are a beginner. I am dismayed to find that part of the reason my noodles may not be up to scratch is that they need to be soaked, dried and then cooked - sounds like much more work for a quick chow mein! But again, Pang has gone to some effort to demystify and break down the process so it will be as accessible as possible to all but the most absolute beginner.

As for the recipes, they range from basic fried rice and Singapore noodles through familiar restaurant dishes like Szechuan chicken, salt and pepper chilli squid, and dumplings all the way to more unusual dishes we might not normally associate with Chinese cooking like five-spice lotus leaf chicken with Chinese sausage, braised beef brisket soup and pickled potato - accompanied by plenty of mouthwatering photos. There are separate sections on deep frying, steaming, poaching and braising, roasting and double cooking, and salads, pickles and said dishes (complete with an illustrated guide to the bewildering variety of leafy vegetables used in Chinese cookery) so virtually everything you need to know (short of being a professional chef who wants to do a seriously in depth study of Chinese culinary history or similar) is covered.


Maped 836111 Color Peps Smoothy Crayons (Pack of 6)
Maped 836111 Color Peps Smoothy Crayons (Pack of 6)
Price: £3.73

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great new product for budding artists, 18 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've been running art workshops for children for 10+ years so I like to keep abreast of new materials. Therefore I was thrilled for a chance to test these "gel crayons". I was expecting something similar to a product I'd bought some years ago (can't remember the name) that looked like glue sticks but contained pigment. Those gave beautiful vivid colours but had a fatal flaw in that they were very crumbly so it made quite a mess when stray crumbs of colour broke off and ended up trodden into a carpet etc. These are much, much better and indeed I would recommend them - with a couple of provisos to bear in mind (and which also account for the lack of a 5* review).

First off, the colours (in this pack at least) are limited to brown, red, yellow, green, blue, and a sort of purple/pink. I don't think most children would use them for long without cries of "I need skin colour!" or "Where's the black?" Also I'm not sure how long they will last. The manufacturer claims they are long lasting and they are generously sized, but only time and use will tell how good the value for money ratio really is. The biggest potentially negative issue that I see is that they are so chunky it's almost impossible to colour with any accuracy. So whilst they will be fine for some freestyle drawing and painterly work or more children who don't mind a bit of "mess", I've also worked with a lot of children (and adults) who would be deeply frustrated by the lack of ability to colour "neatly". I used them in an adult colouring book and found that by wearing the tip down and turning it regularly to use the flat edge I could get some accuracy, but I think this technique would be quite difficult for many children to master (I certainly still struggled). So if you are looking for something that will do a fine line, these are not for you.

There are also a couple of points that could be positive or negative depending on how you want to use these. Although colouring with them feels much smoother than using crayons, they give a similar look (ie the colours look softer on paper and have a slightly "heathered" look to them). They also smudge, which may frustrate some children if they aren't expecting it. However, the smudging is much less than with, say, chalks or pastels, and because the crayons are contained in plastic tubes, so is most of the mess. And if you are happy to play and explore, the smudging will give a great effect and children should enjoy this added attraction to the medium.

In addition to the various points mentioned above, I love the way these feel going on. They slide over the paper with no sense of resistance so will be great for those times when you want to cover a large area with colour. The packaging is neat too, with the chunky plastic barrels complete with triangular non-slip grippy bits which should make them perfect for even very little hands, a twist-up function, and a transparent plastic storage case.

Best of all in my book is that these are water soluble, so you have the option of painting over them for a softer, water-colour effect. I love using water soluble pencils in my workshops as they are less messy, offer lots of different effects, and are a great way to ease less confident children into painting. However, the pencils are usually less soluble as children tend to press hard on them and therefore they usually have some hard lines. Good quality water soluble pencils - and best of all, water soluble crayons - are prohibitively expensive in a classroom setting. These aren't cheap of course, but they seem like they might be a workable alternative. And if you are buying for a household rather than catering to large groups, they'd be fantastic. I suspect they'd be especially effective with very young toddlers who are still at the "scribbling" stage as they'd have almost endless possibilities for experimentation and provide a lot of colour with relatively little effort.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 24, 2015 9:55 AM BST


Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio
Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio
by Misha Glenny
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping true story of an intriguing player in a deadly game, 16 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I recently reviewed Roberto Saviano's Zero Zero Zero (link here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Zero-Roberto-Saviano/dp/1846147697 ) which takes a broad view of the international cocaine trade, so covers very similar subject matter as Misha Glenny's book. I was actually persuaded to read the latter by mediocre reviews which criticised Nemesis for reading too much like a thriller, and that was precisely what attracted me. If you want an exhaustively researched insight into the drug world which reads like an extended newspaper article, then Saviano is probably your man. But for me, I found the sheer scale of the information in the book difficult to process and there was very little that I could connect with on a human level. For that reason, I much preferred Nemesis.

Misha Glenny made the cause and effects of the cocaine trade much more real to me by linking it all to one man and one region. Like other reviewers, I would say that his story seems a little biased. Nem is portrayed as an extremely principled man and there is little doubt that he did quite a lot of good in his favela, but the more negative aspects of his personality, such as his treatment of women, are somewhat glossed over and portrayed as very much secondary to all the positives. Though I understand that it must be very difficult to find people willing to speak against Nem, a more critical account of his life would have made the book seem more balanced.

It's a small complaint though, as the book kept me gripped throughout. One can imagine it being dramatised (probably rather badly) in Hollywood, it was certainly full of dramatic twists and bends and Nem is absolutely a compelling character. But I also felt that it gave me much more insight into life in the favelas of Rio and the often ambiguous role of the drug traffickers within their communities. It may not feel enough like "serious journalism" to some, but it's undoubtedly a fascinating story that will be accessible for a wide audience.


Igenix Liteway LW4257 Small Bayonet Cap Energy Saving LED Golfball Lamp 5 W - Opal
Igenix Liteway LW4257 Small Bayonet Cap Energy Saving LED Golfball Lamp 5 W - Opal
Offered by BestBuyUk
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Great product that pays for itself, 9 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's great to see these LED lamps becoming so widely available now. At first glance they look very expensive, but as they can last for up to 30,000 hours and consume considerably less energy even than energy saving bulbs, they're actually very good value. In addition they hit full brightness immediately, unlike other energy saving bulbs which take a little time to "warm up". This particular model also gives a warm light, unlike many other LEDs which tend to fall on the "blue-r" end of the spectrum. This bulb gives off the equivalent of 25W, but for only 5W of power - so 1/5 the energy of a standard bulb! Obviously it's a fairly low light so won't be suitable for everything (you may want something brighter for a work light or reading lamp) but it's just the job for a standard table lamp and will reward the initial outlay with several years of savings. I'll be looking to switch over to LED bulbs completely as my current ones burn out.


The Breath Co Fresh Breath Toothpaste - 75 ml, Mild Mint
The Breath Co Fresh Breath Toothpaste - 75 ml, Mild Mint
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Great product - if you can afford it, 9 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My favourite thing about the toothpaste is actually the packaging - the back of the box has a tiny black and white picture of a smiling man with giant moustache with the wonderful caption "Dr Harold Katz: International Bad Breath Expert". Now there's an ice breaker for your next cocktail party! Along with the rather retro styling are glowing claims for the wonders of this miracle toothpaste that Katz invented to cure his daughter's bad breath when nothing else would work (I'm sure she's thrilled for the publicity).

But to remove my tongue from my cheek, I actually liked the toothpaste itself very much. I have gum problems, am prone to a dry mouth and eat a lot of spicy food so I do worry about my breath. I also find most "specialist" toothpastes are actively unpleasant to use - either they are eye-wateringly strong mint or based on soda bicarb which has a "saltiness" that leaves my mouth feeling dry and which I worry adds to bad breath problems. This toothpaste has a pleasantly mild minty taste that is not going to overwhelm or affect the flavour of any food you eat for the rest of the day. As other reviewers have noted, it doesn't froth up like other toothpastes. This is, I suspect, largely because it does not include the foaming agent and suspected carcinogen sodium laureth sulfate which is pretty much ubiquitous across toiletries. I love that this toothpaste is free of SLS and other nasties, and I also like that it doesn't foam as I hate the feeling of having a mouthful of froth (especially when dentists recommend not rinsing after brushing, so I always feel I have this nasty foamy residue I can never quite get rid of). The other thing is that, despite the lack of overwhelming "mint" flavour, it really did leave my mouth feeling fresher after and I believe my mouth has been less dry since I began using it.

For the product alone, I'd rate this 5*. I've docked one simply because of the price. The sad reality is that I, like many others, simply can't afford to spend this amount on a product I consume daily. But if you've got cash to splash and prioritise your oral hygiene, I'd definitely recommend this.


Rexel JOY 75 mm A4 Lever Arch File - Perfect Purple
Rexel JOY 75 mm A4 Lever Arch File - Perfect Purple
Price: £8.35

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good quality, but pricey for a basic, 23 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is one of those products that is a bit difficult to review, because unless it is incredibly poor, then how surprising can it be? As files go, this is a nice one. It's an appealing shade of purple, the wipe clean "linen" finish is functional and attractive, it's capacious, and it has some nice details like the label pocket on the side, the thumb ring to assist in taking it off the shelf, and the metal-trimmed edges for added durability. But at the end of the day, it's still a file, and it costs more than double what the discount store equivalent would be. Granted, the latter may not have all the same little marks of quality mentioned above, but it is still going to hold your papers, and for less money. This is a good quality product for what it does, just not sure I need it to be quite this good in order to do the job!


Felix Mixed Selection in Jelly Wet Cat Food Pouch, 100 g (Pack of 96)
Felix Mixed Selection in Jelly Wet Cat Food Pouch, 100 g (Pack of 96)
Price: £25.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Bargain bulk buy, 23 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I adopted my cat from a local shelter where Felix was their wet food of choice. And so far I have only found one other brand she will eat, but it is more expensive and made by a company I refuse to support. So we love Felix in our house, and I was thrilled to see it is now being sold in a larger pack. I hate lugging boxes home from the store so this pack is much more convenient and pretty good value, too. Only thing I'd like better is if the pouches were resealable, as we only use half at a time and kitty is fussy about freshness!


PetSafe FroliCat Flik Automatic Cat Teaser
PetSafe FroliCat Flik Automatic Cat Teaser
Price: £26.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating to my cat, a disappointment to me, 20 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have very mixed feelings about this cat toy. First off, at time of writing the cost is £29.99. I love my cat, but knowing how fickle felines can be about toys, there is no way I'd even consider spending this amount on a toy which she may or may not deign to interact with. On top of that, I also had to purchase 3 x AA batteries which were not included. Seems to me at that price they could have been! The insert mentions that it is designed to be a sleek and attractive toy that won't look out of place in your stylish home (I paraphrase). My home is covered in cat hair and scattered with jingley plastic balls and half-shorn fur mice, so the appearance of kitty's toys is really not top of my priority list. If you somehow manage to maintain both a happy, active cat AND a sleek design-led home, well then I guess this toy might excite you. It's basically a good-sized plastic disc, perhaps about 10in in diameter and a couple of inches high, glossy white and unadorned except for a small "Flik" logo on the top. Press the button on the side and a moor inside rotates intermittently, throwing out a short length of yellow cord, retracting it, and flicking it out again at intervals that are likely to seem unpredictable and enticing to a cat. That's it. It makes a noise, though only intermittently when the insides rotate with the cord, and it's not an intrusive noise in any case. It switches itself off after 15 minutes or so, which is handy as it means I can leave it on if I'm going out or whatever.

But what did the cat think? She's an extremely playful though somewhat skittish 2 year old and I was worried that she might be alarmed by this, but not so. Because the motor is quiet and the string flicks out at spaced intervals - much as if a human was dangling it - she was not at all frightened. But nor was she enthusiastic - I had it on for at least an hour and only saw her actually interact with it twice. So for any humans who might have wanted to be entertained, this fell a bit flat. That being said, the cat was absolutely fascinated by it. Although she didn't chase the string, she sat and watched it intently for pretty much the entire time the machine was going. Even after it stopped she kept an eye on it for a good long time just in case. Basically she was as enthralled as a home-schooled child in front of a television - total hypnosis.

It's hard to imagine there are too many people who would spend this amount on the off chance their cat might play along, but at least it kept my kitty calmly entertained for a good long while.


pürminerals Disappearing Ink Concealer 4-in-1 Concealer Pen, Light 3.5 ml
pürminerals Disappearing Ink Concealer 4-in-1 Concealer Pen, Light 3.5 ml
Price: £13.65

4.0 out of 5 stars Just about foolproof, 20 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I rarely wear makeup of any kind and hardly ever bother with concealers, so enlisted the help of my mother in judging how this one worked. She had told me I looked tired that day and did have some dark circles under my eyes (thanks, Mom!) so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to give it a go. I liked the look and feel of the product - quite chunky yet sleek in its silver tube, and totally straightforward how to use. As other reviewers have noted, it took quite a lot of twisting to get any concealer onto the sponge, but I went cautiously and managed to get there eventually and with no wastage. I've got quite fair skin and found the colour matched fine - I've actually got a tendency to go red in the face so would have thought the yellow-y tint others have noted might be an issue but perhaps instead it "corrected" my colouring? At any rate, I didn't feel it looked artificial against my natural skin tone. I liked that you could apply it with the sponge and get just a small amount at a time, but I did find it helped to use my fingertips for some of the blending. It didn't feel like I was wearing any makeup, which was another big plus for me as I hate the heavy feeling some products have. After I'd done one eye, I stood in bright sunlight and my mother gave me a closer examination and declared that it definitely worked, she could no longer see the dark circles and it made a big difference. Thanks again, Mom. I'm pretty sure, due to my laziness with makeup and skincare in general, that this won't be a product I will be buying regularly, but it will come in handy if I can fit a few late nights in! and I think it would be worth considering if you are looking for a good quality concealer.


Scruffs Men's Switchback Safety Boots T52340 Black 7 UK, 41 EU
Scruffs Men's Switchback Safety Boots T52340 Black 7 UK, 41 EU
Offered by JT Atkinson
Price: £43.80

5.0 out of 5 stars Comfortable and Durable, 12 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Hit a hiccup with these immediately when it turned out I'd ordered a size larger than my guinea pig wears.. He was, however, unperturbed by this and insisted on wearing thicker socks and trying them out anyway. He's very hard on boots and tends to wear them until they are literally falling apart, so it seemed worth trying him out on some really heavy duty ones (and vice versa).

These felt really sturdy and looked similar to his usual style, so he was happy enough in that department. He usually walks at least 2 miles a day, so when these got tested it wasn't for a quick run to the corner shop. He did have to wear two pairs of socks - one thick pair and one normal - due to my sizing mistake. But with the socks on, he said the boots were really comfortable and he was able to wear them all day, including the 2 mile walk home, with no discomfort or indeed even remembering that they were new shoes. I don't think you can say fairer than that - if I could buy a pair of shoes (in the wrong size no less) and wear them all day, straight out of the box, and forget they were new, I'd buy them in a minute! Now it's just a case of seeing how long they hold up to his abuse....


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