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J. Dawson (Edinburgh, UK)
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Philips GC4511/20 Azur Performer Steam Iron with 180 g Steam Boost, 300 ml, 2400 Watt, Blue
Philips GC4511/20 Azur Performer Steam Iron with 180 g Steam Boost, 300 ml, 2400 Watt, Blue
Price: £65.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Well made and super effective, 12 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Confession time: I *never* iron if I can possibly fix it. My iron is much more likely to be used for applying hotfix crystals and similar crafty projects than to actually remove wrinkles. In fact, I don't actually own an ironing board. SO I wasn't too excited about trying this iron out. After all, an iron is an iron, right? Well, colour me wrong. I liked the idea that I could steam vertically and therefore do clothes on hangers (thus helping alleviate the whole "no ironing board" thing). It looks and feels really sturdy, from the "easy glide" plate to the storage clip on the heavy power cord. It has all kinds of little details that I'm not that well-suited to judge, like a self-decalcifying mechanism and a "precision tip". What I did notice was that it seemed well made, it heated up quickly, and boy oh boy did it flatten out a couple of badly-wrinkled cotton tops. It really was easy, straightforward, and effective to use (even vertically). Next test will be linen, but so far it's good enough that I might even consider using it - voluntarily - on occasion. And that really is probably the highest possible praise I could give an iron.


Delicious. Love to Cook: 140 Irresistible Recipes to Revitalise Your Cooking
Delicious. Love to Cook: 140 Irresistible Recipes to Revitalise Your Cooking
by Valli Little
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.91

4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous range of inspiring recipes from the traditional to the exotic, 7 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As I first flipped through this book, I thought the recipes looked pretty standard - especially in the early sections. Spicy carrot and coconut soup, baked ricotta, tuna ceviche, Thai chicken curry....all looked appealing without exactly inspiring. It was only when I got to the "Meat" section that I started to sit up and take notice. Mexican pulled pork, slow cooked lamb shoulder with chili mint sauce, peposo (never even heard of it but photo looks yummy), crispy pork belly with green papaya salad, Greek lamb with orzo pasta - now THESE looked like recipes worth trying! When I had more time to come back to the book and explore in more detail, I was pleasantly surprised to find many of the recipes I'd not looked closely at also included some inspiring touches: the baked ricotta is a clever twist on the familiar baked camembert and brie, whereby the ricotta is actually mixed with chili and parmesan and pressed before baking, sausage rolls are given a Middle Eastern twist with a filling of minced lamb, mint jelly and halloumi, a breaded chicken recipe includes crushed wasabi peas in the crumb coating. There are a few touches that get my hackles up a bit (the "World's Easiest Tomato Pasta Sauce" recipe which contains 7 ingredients - still easy, I'm sure, but not worthy of the name) but generally this is an incredibly good cookery book, with a staggering range of recipes to suit any diet (loads of inspiring meat-free dishes, puddings of every shape and size, sections not just on veg but one on fruit-based recipes as well). There's even a list of suggestions for themed 3 course meals at the back (eg Mexican Fiesta, Asian Summer Lunch, Arabian Night). This should appeal to innovative cooks and would be a great go-to resource to introduce some more exotic recipes (alongside the traditional favourites) to a basic kitchen. Perfect housewarming/first home gift!


Brabantia 30 Litre Retro Pedal Bin Plastic Inner Bucket, Black
Brabantia 30 Litre Retro Pedal Bin Plastic Inner Bucket, Black
Price: £96.65

3.0 out of 5 stars Stylish design = expensive waste, 7 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
What is there to say about a bin? This one looks beautiful, which I guess is relatively unusual for a rubbish receptacle. I find it on the small side for a kitchen bin, it's too narrow for larger rubbish (eg pizza boxes) and it does need frequent emptying. The pedal action and smooth, silent action of the lid is nice and feels like quality, but it has its drawbacks too in that you can't just chuck rubbish into it as you would an open bin, you have to actually walk over and press the pedal - something I'd never really thought much about before but noticed immediately with this. It does stay open if you open it wide by hand, so I guess it's a matter of remembering to do that first. The free bin bags that come with it are, of course, pricey to replace, and I find the idea of branded bin bags absolutely ludicrous, to the point of nearly being embarassed to put them out in our shared bin! Overall the design is well thought out, stylish and functional - but it's nearly £100 for a BIN. And personally I don't think any amount of style can justify that price tag, nor do I feel a plain old kitchen bin really *needs* "engineering".


Salad Love: How to Create a Lunchtime Salad, Every Weekday, in 20 Minutes or Less
Salad Love: How to Create a Lunchtime Salad, Every Weekday, in 20 Minutes or Less
by David Bez
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifulluy designed, inspiring salad recipe book, 4 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Author David Bez states in the introduction to Salad Love that he is not a chef, he is a designer and food lover. These credentials are evident throughout this cleverly designed book, which is both stylish and impressively functional in its organisation and details.
He goes on to describe his motivations for making salad, his process, and the basic techniques of making a good salad (eg ratio of base ingredients like leaves or grain to protein to veg). One suspects most people will not be prepared to emulate Bez's techniques of colonising their office fridge with veg, growing fresh herbs in departmental window sills, and reserving desk drawers for salad spinners, knives and chopping blocks, but his enthusiasm is infectious and many of his recipes look irresistible.

The design really comes into its own with the recipes, which come in colour-coded sections corresponding to the seasons. Each page is laid out the same, with 2/3 given over to temptingly-photographed salads, uniquely arranged but identically styled on plain white plates. More colour-coded bubbles mark each salad at a glance as being suitable for omnivores, pescatarians, vegetarians, vegans, or raw diets, and corresponding bubbles offer tips for alternative versions of each salad corresponding to the same dietary requirements (eg a pescatarian Hot-Smoked Salmon, Corn & Broccoli salad can be adapted for a raw diet by replacing the fish with avocado and chili, and swapping the tinned corn for fresh raw sweetcorn). The bottom 1/3 of each page lists the ingredients for each salad. No technique necessary, this is a simple assembly job.

Salads are often associated particularly with summer, so it's an especially nice idea to emphasise seasonal ingredients and include inspiring winter-y suggestions eg Pear, Dates, Cashew Nuts & Chicory, or why not celebrate an autumn harvest with a colourful mix of Purple Potatoes, Peas & Carrot? With only a handful of exceptions, the ingredients are all readily available and the combinations make imaginative preparations and combinations of familiar ingredients such as ribbons of raw parsnip which serve as a sort of tagliatelle-inspired base for a spring salad of Parsnip, Mushrooms, Walnuts & Truffle Cream. There's also a useful list of dressing recipes which can be mixed and matched with each of Bez's salads.

Bez has created an unusually functional recipe book which is also highly accessible, beautiful, and will inspire readers to experiment with a broad pallette of healthy foods. Time to get chopping!


Kent's Kitchen Meal Kits Red Thai 65 g (Pack of 4)
Kent's Kitchen Meal Kits Red Thai 65 g (Pack of 4)
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gimmicky presentation for average product, 1 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
One can't help but suspect that this product mostly exists because of the smart packaging, for beyond that it has little if anything to offer over a jar of curry paste or a spice blend. It looks and sounds appealing in its little plastic tower containing a tub of garlic-infused oil to fry in, a tub of spice paste, and a tub of "aromatics", but the finished product is no easier nor better tasting than what you'd expect to get from any random curry paste. The spice paste has a very odd texture, sort of smooth and treacle-y, and the aromatics (dried herbs and veg) don't seem to add much of anything. You have to add your own meat, coconut milk, fresh veg and coriander. I did think the finished product tasted good - better than I had expected, in fact. However, had I been served this without seeing the packaging, I doubt I'd have recognised it as a Thai curry. Indeed the elements I'd have most associated with Thai cookery are the coconut milk and coriander which I had to add myself. It also didn't have much kick. So: palatable? Yes, not bad at all. Authentic? Didn't taste like any Thai curry I've eaten before but then I've never been to Thailand. Easy? No more so than using curry paste from a jar. Value for money? Again, much cheaper to buy that jar of spice paste. Plus, lots more wasteful packaging. Which brings me back to the conclusion that the only reason to buy this is the slightly unusual presentation.


Road to Referendum
Road to Referendum
by Iain Macwhirter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.79

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative portrait of politics in Scotland - but may not help undecided voters!, 13 Aug 2014
This review is from: Road to Referendum (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The nearer the referendum draws, the more desperation there is behind the pleas from both sides, and yet it seems there is still very little substance to back up any of the visions of the future which voters are being offered. I hoped reading this book would help me to make a choice between a much-reviled status quo and putting Scotland, at least temporarily, in the hands of a man who showed no regard for his own constituents when Donald Trump brought his billionaire bully-boy tactics to Scotland. Sadly, this book does not paint either option in a terribly flattering light so in terms of my own desire for clarification, it offered little.

It is, however, a well-written and relatively accessible account of Scottish political history that debunks much of the romantic mythologising of Scotland's folk heroes and goes some way towards making up for the failures of the broader UK educational system in teaching Scottish history. As someone who moved to Scotland from abroad 20+ years ago, this taught me much about my adopted homeland and how it is perceived both in Scotland and the rest of the UK. It also brought home to me, in a way few other sources have, the devastation of the Thatcherite years and the fallout which many communities are still suffering.

Iain Macwhirter's book is an ambitious one, and not a light read, but he has done the job remarkably well. It might not make our decision easier next month, but if everyone who was voting took the time to read this first then at least we could feel confident in making an informed choice when we cast our ballots.


Eat Istanbul: A Journey to the Heart of Turkish Cuisine
Eat Istanbul: A Journey to the Heart of Turkish Cuisine
by Andy Harris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

3.0 out of 5 stars Recreate the flavour of holidays in your home, 17 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you are looking to recreate the flavours of a Turkish holiday back at home, this book is probably a good starting point. It's well-balanced between the practical stuff and the role of food in Turkish culture, heavy on recipes (each with its own large, lush photograph) but the background info is also beautifully illustrated with photo collages of market scenes, coffee shops, etc, and broken into easily digestible tidbits that never intrude on the recipes.

The ingredients used are mainly standard stuff, but it may be necessary to visit a Turkish or Middle Eastern shop if you don't feel comfortable with substitutions on things like sumac and Turkish red pepper paste. However, these ingredients crop up again and again so if you're planning to use this book lots, it will be worth tracking down the specialist ingredients.

I've tried a couple of recipes so far: chickpea wraps with onion, parsley and sumac salad and spicy cheese and yoghurt dip. The dip was very nice as a quick and easy alternative to the usual, but none of it set the world alight. My biggest test for a cookery book is whether it makes me feel desperate to actually get cooking, and this one didn't. It's fine as far as it goes, but for me it works better as a reminder of happy hols than culinary inspiration.


Fresh Prints: 25 Easy and Enticing Printing Projects to Make at Home (Simple Makes)
Fresh Prints: 25 Easy and Enticing Printing Projects to Make at Home (Simple Makes)
by Christine Leech
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Inventive and inspiring craft book, 4 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I must admit, I'd held off on ordering this book as printing is one of the view crafts I've never been that interested in. But even a quick flick through this was enough to getting me itching to get started! It's nicely produced and illustrated, of course, but what really stands out are the designs, every single one of which looks like something you'd be thrilled to have in your home. The techniques are also great, including a quicker, safer version of the classic linocut process but also potato (and sweet potato!) and leaf printing, prints from string, lace, doilies, PVA glue, knitwear, even convincingly retro-themed tea towels printed with kitchen utensils. For a process that can seem dull or limited to the uninitiated (think rubber stamps and stencils), Christine Leech has made this most simple decorative technique into a truly inspiring and aspirational craft, and she's included many great projects that really do show off the prints to amazing effect. There's even 12 pages of gorgeous templates and a list of (blessedly mainly UK-based) suppliers. I have to go now, I am off to collect some feathers....


Galt Knitting Case
Galt Knitting Case
Price: £12.87

4.0 out of 5 stars Great value for money craft kit, 2 July 2014
This review is from: Galt Knitting Case (Toy)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The first thing I noticed about this kit is just how full the laminated cardboard carry case was packed. So often, craft kits mean a big container with very little inside it, but that is not the case here. Indeed, when I dug down to the bottom, beneath the wool, to find instructions, I had trouble fitting everything back in and closing the box. So purely in value-for-money materials, this is a great kit. It includes 20 x 10g balls of wool (5 x lilac, 5 x hot pink, 4 x orange, 2 x yellow, 2 x mint green, 2 x pale blue), a short pair of 4.0mm metal needles, pompoms (3 large blue, 1 smaller hot pink), buttons (4 lime green, 2 baby pink), a sheet of lilac felt + assorted precut felt shapes, a bag of stuffing, needles (2 for sewing and 1 larger one for using with yarn), and of course the cute carrier case (which has a metal handle and clasp and a designs that is girly without being too obnoxious), and the instructions. These materials should be sufficient to make all the projects shown on the packaging: a cupcake cushion, a felt flower handbag, small stuffed owl and cat toys, and a pair of fingerless gloves. Again, lots of (not too girly) projects that should appeal to lots of kids and teach them some basic knitting and sewing skills. I know I keep harping on about things being "girly" or not, but I work with an awful lot of young creative girls who get very frustrated by obviously-gendered toys and don't actually *like* pink, so I am always a fan of products that break this particular mould.

I've docked the product one star because whilst I, as an adult, find the basic instructions good, I don't think a child would manage this without the help of an adult knitter. I also don't like the format of the instructions, as there is a smaller insert with diagrams and written instructions in a separate booklet with the "how to knit" diagrams, which seems unnecessarily fiddly.

If you know a child who is keen to knit, this would be an ideal place to start - but make sure they have an adult helper nearby!


Melissa & Doug Flower Power Bead Set
Melissa & Doug Flower Power Bead Set
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Melissa & Doug products are always beautifully presented and very appealing, 30 Jun 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Melissa & Doug products are always beautifully presented and very appealing, but this must be one of their best items. It looks so appealing that children (and adults!) won't be able to wait to get stuck in, and a lot of thought has gone into the little details that make it particularly child-friendly. I loved that the beads - many really large and with a flower theme - are not `the usual pink, pink, and more pink. There are touches of pink but overall the colours are citrus-bright orange, yellow, and greens. As well as a good mix of co-ordinating beads in different shapes, I love that the makers have included plastic clasps for a neat finish, and nylon laces in matching colours even have shoelace-style ends to make threading simple even for the smallest fingers. And of course it's all constructed of sturdy wood, including a presentation tray perfect for storing little treasures when the beads have all been used. Left this kit sitting on a side table and it was the first thing a visitor remarked on, asking where she could get one for her grandchild! A wonderful gift idea and great fun for kids and parents to do together.


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