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since 15/02/2003


Tesco Italian Macaroni Cheese 13/10/2008

Macka Cheese

Tesco Italian Macaroni Cheese One Sunday afternoon I wanted to have a quickie dinner after a huge roast plus apple pie and cream (smacks lips) so thought I'd plump for one of my childhood faves, Macaroni Cheese. It's one of the few dishes I think I'm quite good at cooking myself so I was interested to see how good old Tesco's version would compare. * Where to find it * In the refrigerated section of Tesco, by the overpriced Spaghetti Bolognese and Lasagne. This product is a serving for one and can be frozen. * Price * £1.86 from Tesco Express (rip off) for a 420g portion. Needs must when you live in the sticks! * How to cook it * This can be cooked either in the oven or in the microwave. I opted for the latter - instructions are as follows: Remove outer packaging, pierce film lid several times and then pop it on full power for: 650 watt Category B 6 mins (or 10 mins from frozen) 750 watt Category D 5 mins (or 9 mins from frozen) 850 watt Category E 4 mins (or 8 mins from frozen) Once it has whirred around for the appropriate time, give the product a good stir. In the oven, from frozen, it takes 35-40 minutes on 190C/375F or Gas Mark 5. Just a word of warning, I microwaved mine on the lowest amount of time and it was still exceedingly hot when I removed it. Be *very* careful when taking the plastic film off as the cheese sauce is bubbling which may give you some idea of how hot we're talking! * The look * Well on the front of the box the cheese sauce has obviously ...

L'Oreal Feria Color 05/10/2008

The Browning Version

L'Oreal Feria Color After much experimenting with various hair colours recently after my last permanent hair dye was discontinued, I've decided to just go for it and try something completely different. A while ago I gave myself highlights, they started to fade and frankly looked a bit silly in my ever growing dark hair. The red colour I was using had all but disappeared so the only thing I could think to do was to start again. I spotted a bargainous £1.45 packet of Feria Color 3D (their spelling, not mine!) from good old Boots. Why it was so cheap when every single other packet was £5.79 I do not know. The shade was P15 Red Flash Brown (sounds good, half of me wants to go back to my roots and half of me wants to stay red so this kind of ticks both boxes) - it does say on the box it is specifically for dark hair. *What's in the box * Instruction leaflet (with diagrams - yay) 1 bottle of Feria lightening gel 1 applicator bottle 1 tube of Color Booster concentrate 1 tube of highlight enhancing conditioner 1 pair of professional 'quality' gloves * Preparation * I'd suggest putting the instruction leaflet out of harm's way (read: nowhere near where you are likely to splodge the dye) and then putting on the fetching rubber gloves and secure a towel about your shoulders. The lightening gel and color booster concentrate both go into the applicator bottle which then needs a vigorous shake up. The only tube you have left unused is the enhancing conditioner, which comes ...

Q & A 13/09/2008

The Road to Nowhere

Q & A As I've been absent from the Ciao building for a while I thought I'd do one of these Q&A thingymajigs so anyone that doesn't know me can have a read and get to know me a bit better. For those that already know me, you can see that I am still as mad as the hatter as I was two years ago. Here goes: 1. What is your middle name? Carla - it's taken from my grandmother's surname (which was Italian). 2. How big is your bed? Hmm that's a bit personal. How big's yours? 3. What are you listening to right now? Complete silence, except my fingernails clacking very speedily over the keys! 4. What are the last 4 digits in your cell phone number? 2241. 5. What was the last thing you ate? We had curry tonight, I had honey chicken with pilau rice. Absolutely gorgeous and not high in calories *at all*. 6. Last person you hugged? My friend Jenny, love her to bits. 7. How is the weather right now? Dark. 8. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone? My neighbour Dennis yesterday. 9. The first thing you notice about the opposite sex? The usual things. Eyes (two please), teeth (have they got them?), hands (non hairy) and eyebrows (hairy). 10. Favourite type of food? With La Mack you're pretty safe to serve up anything. There's only 2 things I *don't* like! 11. Do you want children? Looking unlikely as I'm knocking on a bit and hitting a special birthday next year. Sniff. 12. Hair colour? I think I've been most colours but for the past 15 ...

Quality Inn International, Orlando 10/10/2006

Quality Street

Quality Inn International, Orlando Mack was on the lookout for a holiday in September, and just by pure luck she saw an ad in one of the Sunday papers for half price holidays with Virgin. With frantic text and phone calls to her travel buddy, within the hour a 10 day trip to Orlando was booked. Quality Inn International sits almost plum in the middle of International Drive, just past the crossroads at Sand Lake Road. If you've seen the world's largest McDonalds (and how could you miss it?) then you've seen the Quality Inn, which is right next to it. * Checking in * After an eight hour flight, the last thing I needed was a lengthy check in but I only had to give my name at Registration and the lady had everything ready for us, including two key cards. She also gave my friend and I some little 'extras' including a voucher for a free drink at the bar, two free buffet breakfasts *and* a free buffet dinner. Already Quality Inn was racking up some points with me! * The room * As we entered, there were two large double beds in a spacious, air conditioned room. The bathroom was tiddly - just a bath/shower and a toilet and all very, ahem, compact. The sink was outside, along with a hairdryer on the wall, a safe, coffee maker and a microwave (so near the sink - a good idea?!). There was also a fridge which was most handy for cold drinks which were much needed as the weather topped 90 degrees most days. There's a phone and alarm clock by the bed and also internet access which buzzed for no apparent ...

Catch Me When I Fall - Nicci French 30/08/2006

Take a walk on the wild side

Catch Me When I Fall - Nicci French Holly Krauss lives life on the edge. She's an adrenalin junkie who gets by on nervous energy and lots and lots of coffee and very little sleep. So when she goes out to a bar after work one day with her colleagues, they aren't really surprised to see her stepping into an argument between a drunk businessman and the female bartender. Initially the bully man tells her where to go, but having charmed him with her audacity, she is soon drinking with him and his friends. Her colleagues, having seen it all before, leave her alone to fend for herself. Events after that are shady - Holly remembers going to a nightclub with the man, of drinking more and more and then drugs becoming involved. Memories fade but somewhere she remembers a shop window breaking and then a bed, and a man and another woman on it, and fingers fumbling with buttons, and blood in her mouth. '"This is so strange' she said. I said. "Don't stop"'. The next morning, realising what she has done, she creeps home from an unknown flat. She finds her way back to her house and gets into her own bed - the bed she shares with her husband, Charlie. But, as in all Nicci French's books - this isn't the end to her sordid, secret night. She's left her mobile phone behind and soon, 'Rees', the man involved, is ringing her, threatening her and even turning up at her office with her knickers (well, obviously!). Sometimes, a one night stand can be the death of you … * What I thought * Wow! What a great start to a book. ...

Marks & Spencer Count on Us Chicken and Cashews with Vegetable Rice 23/08/2006

Off yer nut!

Marks & Spencer Count on Us Chicken and Cashews with Vegetable Rice On perusing the shelves at Marks and Spencer recently, I fancied trying something new and came upon this little gem. I *almost* didn't buy it as it's healthy, or low fat, or whatever you want to call it. Mack likes fully fattening jobs but as the picture on the front looked so pretty, in the basket it went. * What's cookin'? * As this wasn't an emergency hunger situation I decided to take the slow approach and popped it into a pre heated oven at 165C. For non fan ovens it's 190C and for those cooking on Gas it's mark 5. OK, so you only have to wait 15 minutes and you have a ready made rice extravaganza. For those too impatient to wait that long, this product can be microwaved and that takes between 4 and 5 minutes depending on your all important wattage. Not too much preparation needed before you cook it. One thing is vital though and that's to peel off the film and remove the teensy packet of cashews that are nestling on top of the rice. Now that's done you're allowed to put it in the oven. * Hey good looking' * Tick tock doesn't time fly when you're having fun? Yes indeed already the 15 minutes is up and now it's time to serve up. The rice is in a separate portion so that's easy enough - that can go on first and then let's not forget to stir the nuts into the chicken/veg mixture and then we can spoon that on top of the rice. Just as an aside … many of the cashews are broken and in fact there are only 5 that I can see that are whole. A sneaky way perhaps of ...

Land of the Living - Nicci French 17/08/2006

Land of Make Believe

Land of the Living - Nicci French Abbie Devereaux is in a bind. Literally. She's tied up, gagged and has a noose around her neck. She's in the pitch black with no idea of how she got there, or who her captor is. To prevent herself from going mad, she counts the seconds and estimates how long her captor has gone - and how long it will be until he next decides to give her a drink of water through a straw. Or feed her the sludge that passes for food. Or maybe he'll pull her trousers down and let her use the toilet, which is a bucket. Abbie tries to plan a seemingly impossible escape. With no idea where she is and weak from hunger and exhaustion, all that is keeping her going is the thought that one day she will be free. A severe blow to the head has caused amnesia and she can remember very little about the last few days. She doesn't know if she will be alive in the next minute, let alone tomorrow. Her captor is keeping her alive just to toy with her. There have been others before her, he's told her. Others that didn't make it. 'Kelly who cried and Abbie who tried. I can make you into a rhyme. Cried, tried, died. It's all the same to me, in the end'. Abbie knows she's on borrowed time. When she finally does escape, the real world, the one she so missed, is not as she recalls it. Everything is different now, and she can't remember parts of her life. Apparently she'd left her job and her boyfriend just days before she was abducted but has no idea why she made these life changes. Scared and alone and not ...

The Safe House - Nicci French 02/08/2006

Safe as houses

The Safe House - Nicci French As I'm slowly reading my way through Nicci French's books, I was glad to find 'The Safe House' for a mere 50 pence on one of my many hospital visits in the local shop there. At such a bargain price would I find it as good as some of the others? Let's find out. * The plot * A brutal murder starts the first chapter - Leo MacKenzie and his wife are found dead in their own home - horribly mutilated. The housekeeper that finds them makes a further grim discovery - their daughter Fiona (Finn) is in her bed, taped up and bloody, and barely alive. Severely traumatised after a long stint in hospital, Finn is sent to stay with Samantha Laschen, a doctor who specialises in post-traumatic stress. Sam has moved to the Essex coast with her young daughter Elsie, leaving London far behind. Her boyfriend, Danny, comes and goes as he pleases. Finn is in need of refuge and, with a little push and a shove from the authorities above, Sam is asked to provide a safe house. * Characters * From the start Sam is a likeable character - the story is told in the first person and we quickly move into her life and her home and we can understand her reluctance at having a house guest when she is still getting used to a new routine and is about to start a new job. Sam is an unconventional heroine, described as lanky and with shaved bright red hair who can't cook and enjoys a game of chess. Her love for her daughter, Elsie, is evident throughout the book. Finn is a quiet character, nervous ...

Superdrug Performance Permanent Hair Colour 24/07/2006

What a difference a day makes

Superdrug Performance Permanent Hair Colour I blame Julia Roberts. Ever since I saw her in 'Pretty Woman' and she took off her blonde wig and her long hair came tumbling out and said "Red" and Richard Gere said "Better" KM decided she had to have *that* hair on her head. So she's been dyeing it that colour since she was 19 years old ... which is quite a while now. And yes it's curly like Ms Roberts' too - shame I don't have her bank balance but you can't have everything. So La Mack is always on the lookout for a new and cheap alternative to keep her copper locks a lovely reddish colour. She's tried nearly every brand on the market and was fed up with forking out up to £6 every couple of months when her roots started to show through. Red is notorious as being the worst colour for fading fast and boy is that true! Having spent the best part of 15 years on and off with this colour, I have watched many of my favourite brands disappear off the shelves never to be seen again. However as I was perusing the aisles of Superdrug, I captured a coy looking gal peeking at me with one eye beckoning 'come hither' behind her perfect, straight, red hair. Aha! I grabbed the package, paid my £2.89 (bargain!) and off I went to try it out. * The package * The box I chose was shade 7/34 which is Warm Copper Gold. There are a couple of red shades to choose from (the other being far brighter for those that are brave enough). In the box there are 5 items: A bottle of crème developer Crème Colour Intensive Conditioner Rubber ...

Something Might Happen - Julie Myerson 10/05/2006

Goodbye Happiness, Hello Loneliness

Something Might Happen - Julie Myerson Tess and her husband Mick, live with their four children in a small seaside town in Suffolk. One winter's night a local woman is brutally murdered - she is later identified as Tess's best friend. The whole town is horrified - after all, Lennie just isn't the type to have something like this happen to her. And so begins an investigation. But this isn't a thriller, or a crime story. This book tells of Tess's struggle to hold onto all that is dear to her. Suddenly her mundane routine changes as police enter her family's lives. The rock solid relationship is shaken and starts to reach rocky ground as false testimony, clues and tantalising sightings butt into their every day lives. Who killed Lennie, and why? And how can Tess help her grieving neighbour, Alex, and his two sons? As the funeral approaches, the connections that Tess has formed are tested as she takes a step back from the horrendous nightmare. Looking at her own life, she realises that sometimes there's no one out there to help you. * What I liked * Gosh. Well this is the first Myerson book I've ever read and I was not disappointed. This had me hooked from the start. It's very easy to read, with frequent breaks and chapter changes. It's unbelievably realistic, from the very first pages the reader is literally sucked into the grim reality of what's happening and we feel as if this is true - that Lennie is *your* best friend. It's shocking in its honesty and doesn't pull any punches. 'I think she's dead, ...

Life Swap - Jane Green 03/05/2006

Desperate Housestrifes

Life Swap - Jane Green Vicky Townsley is a 35 year old singleton living in London, a features editor for 'Poise' magazine. Amber Winslow is a Yummy Mummy, living the American dream in Connecticut. She has a rich husband, the kids and the dog - and yet *still* she feels less than satisfied. Sometimes not even her Manolos can cheer her up. While having a throwaway conversation with her sister-in-law, Vicky hatches a plan for a new idea. Why not offer one lucky married reader a 'life swap' for a month, trading places with Vicky, a sort of 'real life Desperate Housewives'? That way Vicky gets to have an instant family and the lucky reader can go back to being young, free and single! I don't think it will take a genius to realise who the lucky 'married' woman is. Yup. But what happens when they attempt to live each other's dream? * Characters * Firstly I took a while to warm to both characters. I found Green focused mostly on Amber and immediately I didn't like her much. Although she wants for nothing and spends all her time shopping and deciding which expensive outfit to buy next, she's still not happy and spends all her time trying to keep up with the Joneses. Spoilt and annoying springs to mind. Green also uses many 'English' sayings which frankly don't work on an American character - primarily "Rubbish" which as far as I know is not used at all over there. Again this irked me. She also spent far too much time waffling on about money/wealth/riches/spending which wasn't necessary as ...

Speak softly, she can hear - Pam Lewis 28/11/2005

Anywhere but here

Speak softly, she can hear - Pam Lewis It's the 60s, and overweight Carole and her friend Naomi are desperate to lose their virginity before graduation. The two girls decide who will be first, on a dare. The winner gets to bed Eddie Lindbaeck, an older boy who has been expelled from several of the better schools on the East Coast. After outwitting her rival, Carole is the eventual victor. She arranges to meet Eddie in a secluded cabin, deep in the snowy woods. Carole is afraid - she is, after all, meeting a total stranger. Eddie is experienced, handsome and a little dangerous. After the drunken fumbling encounter is over, Eddie demands Carole's silence, threatening to tell her parents what they have just done. He blackmails her into giving him one of her parents prized possessions - a silver cigarette case. Already sensing that something isn't quite right with Eddie, Carole decides to leave. But at that moment there is a knock at the door. An older woman called Rita enters the room and soon Carole is experiencing the worst night of her life which is going to haunt her forever. Naomi, returning to check on Carole, witnesses the aftermath and soon there is a tragedy which must be covered up. * What I thought * I picked this book because I had seen it advertised and reviewed in two magazines. I immediately started bidding for it on Ebay and eventually won it. The spiel on the back more or less says what I have told you above, yet from the start this is gripping stuff. Carole is shy, a little put upon ...

Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay 17/11/2005

Panic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay My fascination with this book started some time ago. Set in Australia, I had no idea of the background to the story until a few years ago when my friend and I went to Mount Macedon one night. While making our way steeply down in the car from the mountain in the pitch black, we came across a silhouette standing at the side of the road. I don't know who was more scared - the kangaroo or us. Mack let out a girlie high pitched scream. The reason for this was that my friend had just decided to tell me the tale of what had allegedly happened at Hanging Rock. I think I was a little bit spooked. When I went to Melbourne in March this year, we were again heading for Mount Macedon and took a wrong turn. And guess where we ended up? Yup, you got it, Hanging Rock. So now I've been there (and returned) - I shall now enlighten y'all to this tale of terror … * The plot of the book * Set in 1900, a school outing at Hanging Rock on Valentine's Day for the pupils of Appleyard College for Young Ladies ends in tragedy. That morning starts well. It's a hot and sunny day, perfect weather for a picnic. The girls are excited to be heading out even though their destination is a fair distance away. After they arrive and have lunch four of the girls decide to go for a walk and they are seen crossing the river. Two boys, Mike and Albert, spot them and Albert lets out a low wolf whistle as the girls lift their skirts to prevent them from getting wet. Mike, an English boy only three weeks ...

Pacific Resort Hotel, Paihia 10/11/2005

Pink Palace

Pacific Resort Hotel, Paihia While on my recent tour around New Zealand, we stayed in 12 different hotels. Yes indeedy folks, it wasn't even worth unpacking in most of them. The Paihia Pacific Resort Hotel is situated in the Bay of Islands, on the North Island. This was our base for two nights while we visited 'nearby' Cape Reinga, which was, in fact, about 4-5 hours drive away at the very northernmost tip of the island. But that's nothing to the New Zealanders! * The hotel * Well from my title you can imagine the décor, yes it's got a pale pink exterior. But don't let that put you off. Our tour bus was greeted by the owners, who pointed us in the right direction to our rooms. There are three blocks of accommodation which are all tiered. Our block had two levels and there are fairly steep steps up to your room if you're not on ground level, so it's not for the very infirm. Facilities include a free sauna, gym and sunbed (bonus!) and the hours are generally around 8am to 8pm. There is a laundry, car park and conference room. Reception is not open 24 hours - 7am to 9pm. As such we did not have a check in as our tour guide went in to collect our room keys, which had already been allocated. * The room * The bathroom was situated on the left as we entered, and the room was spacious. There was one double bed and one single by the window (we tossed and guess who ended up with the single? Yup, li'l ole me). There was also a sofa and table. After a quick inspection there were a few minor gripes. ...

The Laments - George Hagen 16/09/2005

Round the World in Lamenty Days

The Laments - George Hagen Mary has just given birth. She is in hospital in Africa and has no interest in her baby. He was born prematurely and is in an incubator. And she doesn't want to touch him. The doctor, concerned about her, goes to another patient, Julia Lament, who has also recently given birth. He thinks if Mary touches another baby, she will get used to it and this will lessen the chances of rejection. Reluctantly, Julia agrees. Anything to help another mother. But once Mary sees Julia's baby, she falls in love with him. He's so unlike her own weak, frail child. And when it's her turn to leave the hospital, she decides she wants to take him with her…. And so begins a bizarre tale of children switched at birth. Because Dr Underberg, however misplaced his intentions were, decides to make things right. He tells Howard and Julia Lament "A fine couple, ideal parents, who have lost a baby, on the one hand, and an orphan, abandoned by his parents, who insists on surviving". A plan brews - the Laments will take Mary's abandoned baby and bring him up as their own. And let him be called Will. * Humour * Well this is a strange book, make no mistake! But from the start it's likeable and displays large amounts of black comedy, which I loved. The back of the cover suggests it's a 'close relative to that greatest of all American family stories, The Simpsons' which I'm not sure I agree with. I find the humour is subtle compared to the slapstick comedy that Homer and Marge exude. One ...
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