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since 10/07/2000


Birds Eye Salmon Fish Fingers 01/11/2009

Not a load of Pollocks

Birds Eye Salmon Fish Fingers Fish Fingers have come of age with a new offering from the Birds Eye stable - salmon fish fingers. I should state that I'm not a fan of convenience foods and fish fingers are particularly easy to make but, with a toddler, it's useful to have something tucked in the freezer for a quick lunch or tea. Salmon, as an oily fish, is a great meal for children (and adults) and so these fish fingers appealed more than the regular cod (or more commonly, Pollock) offerings. The fish fingers are sized no differently to "regular" fish fingers although a review of the ingredients shows that they are only 58% salmon (as compared to 63% Pollock for Birds Eye's regular fish fingers). One advantage of the salmon over the white fish is that they cook quicker - just 12 minutes in a high oven will see you with perfectly cooked fingers of fish. The salmon flakes well on cutting. It's perhaps not as moist as a baked piece of salmon but the unmistakable, slightly sweet taste of the salmon comes through clearly when the fish alone is eaten. So often my complaint about pre-prepared fish fingers is the coating and, alas, these give rise to complaint. The crumb looks no different to a standard fish finger (not value range) but the taste is a world apart. The coating crisps well and, on cutting, holds together. However, the crumb, whilst not appearing dry to the initial taste, leaves a particularly dry taste in the mouth. One is left with the feeling that one has eaten fine sawdust ...

Bisto Premium Yorkshire Puddings 19/10/2009

Ahhh! Yorkshire

Bisto Premium Yorkshire Puddings Having a fussy eater as a son means that I've become a little more "experimental" in the food that's available in the house. In desperation I've tried products that I wouldn't have dreamed of buying before having children. Sometimes this is just to offer variety, other times it's for convenience. Yorkshire puds have to be one of the easiest things to make. There's nothing fancy in the batter and, when you're cooking a roast it's no hassle to slip a tray in the top oven. However, upon discovering that my son actually liked these and having had little success in freezing home-made pies I decided to try some of the ready-made versions so that, when offering my son a roast mid-week (made from a roast that my husband and I have most likely shared the night before) I can also offer a pud alongside. Bisto Yorkshire Puddings caught my eye in the supermarket for the simple fact that they were on offer and so my attention had been cleverly drawn to them by the marketers. At £1 for a frozen pack of 12 I decided that I couldn't go far wrong. A skim of the ingredients list showed me that there was nothing "nasty" in them (by that I mean no odd ingredients that I would not put in my own puds) and that they would cook in 4-5 minutes. Perfect. The puds are a reasonable size (about the size you'd achieve if you'd made your own in muffin tins (rather than Yorkshire tins)) and don't actually look "commercial". By that I mean that there is a slight unevenness of colour as would ...

Pentax Optio WP 06/10/2009

I take my pocket camera kayaking, snorkeling and river running!

Pentax Optio WP My first foray into the world of digital cameras is now a distant memory. At the time the cameras were really expensive and we decided to opt for a Kodak 6410, a semi-automatic camera with a super-zoom which, although it pulled great shots (relative to others at the time) it wasn't exactly what you'd call pocket sized. In fact, I think you can get smaller digital SLRs these days! Planning a trip to Croatia we decided that the Kodak was really not suitable for travel and so started to look for a point and shoot compact digital camera. By now it was evident we'd be able to get more megapixels for our buck than when we bought the Kodak but I couldn't help but think that there was little to differentiate the models at the basic level. If I was going to double up on equipment at a basic level I wanted something that was a bit different. We had previously looked into whether there was a camera available that was designed for travel, something that offered a bit of bump protection and, maybe even a splashproof facility. Unless we wanted to spend an additional £100 (at the time) on a waterproof case for a standard camera (which would make the whole as bulky as our existing Kodak) it seemed that there was a hole in the market. That was until we discovered the Pentax Optio WP. It was new on the market at the time and there was little written about it. As it was no more expensive than most of the other compacts from the major photography houses we decided to make the leap. We've ...

Sassy Mam UltiVent Bottle 01/10/2009

Breast Stroking

Sassy Mam UltiVent Bottle As a new parent you are bombarded with choices. Everyone has advice and recommendations and there are certain situations where you are prepared to try anything and everything to find something that works. For us, one of those situations was the choice of bottle. Getting Baby Off Breast and onto Bottle My son’s clearly going to be a real man. He was breastfed to start with but there came a point at which I wanted (and needed for medical reasons) to switch him onto a bottle. He was having none of it. I’d bought some Tommy Tippee bottles when he was born on the recommendation of a friend. The teats were meant to be “close to nature” but they were clearly not that close as my son was not fooled! Health visitors suggested Dr Brown’s bottles. My son disagreed. We couldn’t get him to take from a cup, the mere sight of a bottle caused a screaming session and I was getting increasingly desperate. Then, when coming away from a meeting with the health visitors a lady came over to me. “I couldn’t help overhearing you there. I had the same issue. Have you tried Mams Ultivent bottles?”. Yet another piece of advice. Great. But I was desperate and willing to try anything so off I traipsed to the shops to buy yet another bottle. And so began the turning point. The USP Mams Ultivent bottles are quite unlike any other. For a start they come apart into 6 pieces, a base, a rubber valve, the body of the bottle, a teat, teat ring and cap. No single part of the ...

Cosatto Hula 28/09/2009

More Bugs than Buggy

Cosatto Hula This buggy looks fantastic but unfortunately, for me, doesn't live up to expectations! One of six buggies that I and a group of young mums put on test in 2007, the Cosatto Hula really does look funky standing next to the more traditional offerings. It looks well built, sturdy and comfortable. Unfortunately, probably only the latter quality is valid. It is a very lightweight buggy but that also seems to be its downfall. I found that it didn't feel very stable and you certainly can't hang any shopping on the back or it'll fall very easily. Even with a child in the buggy if you hang a bag of shopping from one handle the opposite front wheel will lift up off the ground making it very difficult to push and steer. It may be that the buggy weights that you can buy to go on the front wheels might help this but personally I like to think that a buggy is safe and sturdy without the use of other accessories. Being light it's easy to push the unladen buggy with two hands but I found that the maneuverability suffered if I tried to push with one hand (because I had shopping in the other or perhaps might have been holding another child). On occasions the front wheels seemed to spin round independently (across the direction of travel). This just didn’t give the impression that the buggy was built to last. The front wheels lock for use over rough terrain and this does seem to address some of the stability issues of the buggy although clearly locking the front wheels and ...

Tomy Radio Control Steam & Sounds Thomas 23/09/2009

Getting all steamy with Thomas!

Tomy Radio Control Steam & Sounds Thomas The evolution of children's toys will, I think, never cease to amaze me. However, there are some toys and characters that seem to be ingrained in every child's life and, for young boys, Thomas the Tank Engine and other trains seem never to lose their popularity. Following a trip to a local miniature railway my son developed that familiar toddler fascination with steam trains and viewing of Thomas the Tank Engine only served to cement this love. It was therefore with interest that I happened upon a Thomas toy on the reduced shelf in Tesco. My son's birthday was approaching and so I took a look. The remote control steam and sound Thomas has to be one of the best Thomas toys that I've come across. What appears, at first, to be a basic Thomas model is, in fact, so much more. Sound effects and "real" steam make for an exciting remote control toy. Thomas is operated via a simple infra-red remote control. There are just two directional controls - forwards and turn. It didn't take my son long to figure out the forwards bit but he's not yet figured out that, to get the train to return to you you need to turn it round and then go forwards again. This isn't a huge issue as my son simply gets up, manually turns the train around, and then continues. I'm sure, in time, it will come. As Thomas moves along the familiar (and slightly annoying) Thomas theme tune plays together with very realistic "chuff chuff" sounds. For me, the exciting bit is the steam though. ...

VTech SmartVille - Alphabet Train Station 22/09/2009

The Designers Need Some Training

VTech SmartVille - Alphabet Train Station I'm a fan of more traditional toys. Toys that encourage learning, discovery and pretend play. I find, however, that many of the toys available today fall short and, in effect, play with themselves. V-Tech toys seem to form a bit of a half-way house between modern, all singing, all dancing toys and the older-fashioned toys where discovery was key and, as such, have been a bit of a favourite in our house. They provide the modern, button pushing, light flashing, noise making satisfaction that modern toddlers seem to love but without just giving it to the toddler on a plate, devoid of learning experience. My purchase of the Alphabet Train Station was a rather spur of the moment decision. It was bought online, with no research, as it seemed like a real bargain. Being V-Tech I thought it would be great. On reflection I wish I'd known a little more about it, and the accompanying Smartville range, before parting with my money. Having said that, it's a popular toy in our house and does have some qualities that make me stop short of saying "don't buy this". Features On paper, at least, this toy packs a punch, combining many features that would usually only be found on separate toys into one neat package. There's an alphabet function (unsurprisingly), object naming, animal and animal noise recognition, a clock, a 5 note keyboard that also teaches colour and shapes and facility for good pretend play with characters, accessories and a train. The Alphabet Train Station is ...

Inverto IDL 7000T 18/09/2009

Inverted Technology

Inverto IDL 7000T ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~ In a Nutshell + An easy to use PVR with functionality more commonly found on more expensive models. Twin tuners allow for simultaneous recordings and the 14 day EPG makes recording a doddle. Integrated Freeview tuner. Ability to pause and rewind live TV. - Hard to find in stores and a few hardware issues that might cause you to lose or miss recordings. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~ Technology has come a long way since the days of tape recorders and video recorders. For many people, the convenience of a hard disc recorder is a plus - no tapes or DVDs to worry about and, to steal a quote from the old Scotch video advert you can just "re-record not fade away" to your heart's content. When our video recorder gave up the ghost a couple of years ago I just happened to be surfing on MoneySavingExpert when I came across a posting about the Inverto PVR. At around £60 at the time (on offer) it seemed too good to be true, especially when PVRs at the time were around £300. What's more, this PVR had an inbuilt Freeview receiver and, as we were having a lot of trouble with our cable provider this seemed an excellent way to find out whether Freeview would allow us to lose our cable TV (thereby saving money). I couldn't find much out about the Inverto before we bought it, just a few "fans" who said that it was the best thing since sliced bread but that the instructions were appalling.... Boots (online) ...

Technika 7'' Advanced Digital Photo Frame 17/09/2009

Remember those old family side shows?

Technika 7'' Advanced Digital Photo Frame I was a fairly early-comer to the use of digital photo frames. I'm not the kind of person who likes lots of photos scattered around the house but felt that, with a young son, I really should have some up. Irrational? Maybe. Digital photo frames really sounded like the answer and Tesco's in-house brand of Technika caught my eye. The frames on offer were a fraction of the price of the branded products from the likes of Sony and Kodak but seemed to have very similar functionality. So, did my budget purchase make the grade? Kind of (but, to be honest the real answer should be "yes" as the more expensive models suffer from many of the same issues). Style The first frame I acquired was a simple 7" frame. Aesthetically it's clearly a plastic affair being white with a clear Perspex surround but it's simply styled and should fit with most modern decors. The frame will stand in a portrait or landscape fashion and is angled slightly from the perpendicular to give the perfect viewing angle. It cannot be wall-mounted. Operation In terms of operation it's easier to have the frame aligned to landscape format but, personally, I prefer the look in portrait. Much too will depend on how you tend to take your photos as you have to rotate the photos before adding them to the frame's memory (unless you want to rotate them individually in browse mode). The reason landscape is preferable from a functionality perspective is that the operation buttons run down one of the ...

Requiem 15/09/2009

Music for Meditation

Requiem Introducing people to a new genre of music is often best accomplished through compilation albums, particularly where the music in question is not what one would really consider "mainstream" listening. Compilations enable one to listen to a range of music which, although of a type, will often vary quite a bit. I've found this to be particularly true of the classical genre. Some classical pieces can feel very inaccessible to the novice listener and concertos, sonatas and symphonies can go on for what seems like an age. So, when the time came for me to introduce someone to sacred works I decided that compilation was the way forward. As a label Naxos are well known for producing good quality but cheap recordings and were one of the first labels to open up the classical market challenging the more established labels to produce cheaper discs. I've always found Naxos to be reliable and, indeed, some of my favourite versions of classical pieces can be found on this label. One thing to note, if you're not overly familiar with classical music, is that the recording can make all the difference. The variation in interpretation of the musical score can be as varied as thinking of all the cover-versions of popular songs - no two are ever the same. Requiem is subtitled "music for Reflection and Meditation". It takes various well known settings of the requiem mass, together with a couple of other fitting pieces and puts them together in one place. If one is so minded, one should ...

Come Again - Josie Lloyd, Emlyn Rees 14/09/2009

I won't be returning.... maybe you will

Come Again - Josie Lloyd, Emlyn Rees Despite the fact that there's a tag line emblazoned on the cover "From the bestselling authors of "Come Together"" I never really picked up on the fact that this book is, in fact, a sequel. Thankfully, I concluded, you don't need to have read the first to make sense of the second (although I suspect that if you read the first after the second that might just prove a little odd!). Jack and Amy (introduced in the first book) have just moved in together and are about to get married. Jack's best man (and now ex-flatmate), Matt is feeling a little left out - he's lost his flatmate, is single and feels that life is just passing him by. Also feeling a little left out is Susie, joint best friend to Amy. Susie too feels she's losing a best friend to marriage but is also insatiably jealous of Helen ("H"), Amy's other best friend. H, herself, has her own issues. Completing the set is Greg Stringer, known by his surname or affectionately as "Horse", desperate to prove himself in a number of respects! We follow the friends, together with a few accomplices in the weeks up to the wedding: the preparations, the stag party, the hen party and finally the wedding. The style of this book is, for me, what makes and breaks it. Each chapter is written in the first person but from the perspective of one of the 4 characters, Matt, Stringer, Susie and H (interestingly NOT Jack or Amy who narrated the first). Under the co-authorship of Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees, we are, I imagine, ...

Kellogg's Multi-Grain Start 14/09/2009


Kellogg's Multi-Grain Start KELLOGG'S MULTI-GRAIN START There's always a wide selection of cereals available chez nous. I get very bored eating the same things day after day and my 3 year old is about as fickle as they come. Whilst I'm quite happy to eat sugary cereals there's a big part of me that thinks that I shouldn't encourage my son into the same trap. As a result I'm always on the look out for cereals that are interesting enough to appeal to little people whilst not being too unhealthy. KELLOGG'S IT HAS TO BE! Although I've experimented with own brands (and it has to be said that ASDA are by far the best) there is only really one manufacturer of choice when it comes to cereal and that is Kellogg. Nestle give them a run on certain cereals (particularly Cherrios) but that red K always comes out a rub above. The Kellogg philosophy of "you are what you eat" could have been lifted straight from a Gillian McKeith book had that fine lady been around in the 1870s. THEY'RE UNDER STARTERS ORDERS There's a bit of an ethos that seems to come with Multigrain Start (or Start as it used to be back in the day). It's about a lifestyle, not just a breakfast and, as such, there's a good fit with modern ideas of healthy living and eating. Multigrain Start is made from a mixture of wheat, maize and oats bound together with glucose, sugar, malt and honey with a few added vitamins and minerals added for extra effect! From this description you’ll ...

HP G70-111EM 11/09/2009


HP G70-111EM As technology advances and more and more seems to be packed into smaller and smaller bits of kit laptop choice has become either very complicated or rather academic, depending on your point of view. Given that I tend to use a laptop to word process, access emails and surf (but not data heavy sites) the choice of laptop tends to the academic in terms of functionality - almost every laptop available on the market will physically do what I want it to and has the necessary spec. Choice therefore comes down to more "fluffy" things such as the look of the laptop, the feel of the keys and, to a certain degree, perception about value. hp as a brand are reasonably respected. They're not fancy or hi tech like Sony but they're not quite bargain bucket either. It seemed like a reasonable choice. I decided, fairly early on in my search, that I would like a numeric keypad to the side of the key board. I do a lot of data entry type work and find the keypads easier to use than the line of numbers at the top of the keyboard. This requirement meant that many cheaper laptops were excluded and I was really looking at something with a 17" (+) screen from either hp or Sony. It seems that a numeric keypad is not regarded as necessary on many laptops - understandable really as it rather limits how small a laptop can get. Having just had a Sony and been unimpressed by the durability of the system I decided to give hp a chance. The laptop was cheaper than the equivalent Sony model ...

Memory Almost Full - Paul McCartney 09/09/2009

In Retrospect

Memory Almost Full - Paul McCartney McCartney, whether you love him or loathe him, is a bit of a legend and he really seems to come to terms with his status in his 2001 album Memory Almost Full. Macca's first output on the Starbucks label was produced by David Kahne and represents a much more focussed offering than his previous discs. For once, Macca doesn't seem to be denying his former life with Wings and when listening to the album one could be mistaken for believing that you were, in fact, listening to something recorded many years before. The tone is high, tuneful and guitar heavy and there's a real return to the past. Although you feel that he's coming to terms with his life and status this is an album that's totally lacking in pretention. It's a quiet look back (and at times forward). The album isn't consistently good and, in fact, I'd argue that his single release "Dance Tonight" is actually one of the weaker tracks. It's one of the few that isn't true to the past and, as such, it jars rather in an album that's otherwise fluid. Both musically and lyrically this is an album in retrospect. There's not much that really "sounds" new and the theme is most definitely in the past. Lazy summers are evoked in "You Tell Me" and the past is ever present. However, "The End of the End" brings us into the future in a rather sombre yet still backward looking way. This is a clever album musically. Unlike many of these "easy pop" albums, apologies Macca, but an aging rocker can't be much else, ...

Numberjacks Annual 06/09/2009

NumberJacks are on their way (out the door)

Numberjacks Annual Annuals are the thing that childhoods are made of. I recall, as a child, being thrilled to receive a Bunty annual. It was familiar territory, deeply unsatisfying, yet, somehow, thrilling stuff. I didn't think that I'd be entering annual territory again quite so soon but, at the tender age of 2 ½ my son received his first annual - Numberjacks 2009. The thrill was obvious. Would the annual live up to my recollection of all that makes annuals good? Whilst said 2 year old is clearly enthralled by the book I suspect that (a) he's a little too young to really understand and (b) that were he older he'd think much the same as me.... it's a poor offering. The style of the annual is typically "comic". It's your typical mix of stories, facts and activities. However there's nothing new. All of the stories are condensed versions of the TV scripts with the pictures being screen shots together with a couple of comic characters. Not only are the scripts condensed, they're badly condensed. They're condensed in such a way that even a 2 year old can tell (and he's only seen the programme a few times). They lack flow. Interspersed through the text of the stories are little questions designed to check understanding of the text. I'm really not sure who these are aimed at. For the child who can read they are patronising in the extreme. For the child who needs the story read to them they make no sense - it's over-parenting at its worst. If you can't interact with your child ...
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