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Restaurant Incanto, Amsterdam 22/05/2015

Incanto Inamsterdam

Restaurant Incanto, Amsterdam Dinner for Sixteen Earlier this week I had the good fortune to get invited for dinner with a bunch of our sales colleagues in Amsterdam. They must have had a good month as their boss had booked a ‘special’ dinner at a restaurant that used to be the favourite of his old big boss and that restaurant was an Italian called Incanto. We were a group of sixteen and the restaurant was very small so they had only agreed to take the booking if we went late. So it was that we rolled up at 8.30 pm - rather late by Dutch standards. We had filled in the pre-dinner lull with a visit to the exquisite Freddy’s Bar in the Hotel de l’Europe where I’d been persuaded to have some cocktails and by the time we arrived for dinner I was aware that I was probably going to struggle to remember all the details of my evening. Incanto is situated at the city centre end of the Amstel, one of the city’s main waterways. It’s at the intersection of four waterways - the Amstel, Rokin, Singel and Kloveniersburgwal which means there’s a lot of water to look out over whilst you’re eating your dinner. For those who navigate by landmarks, it’s close to the floating flower market, the Stopera and Rembrandtsplein. Going Up in the World The restaurant is upstairs and the main dining area is really not very big at all. This is not a natural choice for anyone with mobility issues as I could see no alternative to the stairs. If I were trying to be generous, I’d say our table was ‘snug’. More realistically it was not ...

Merumaya Overnight Recharge Night Cream 21/05/2015

A night cream from a small independent company

Merumaya Overnight Recharge Night Cream Trying something different I am by nature a creature of habit. I find products I like and I buy them again and again, sometimes for many years, sometimes piling up boxes in the bathroom cupboard when I can get my favourite products at good prices. I therefore rationalise that it’s almost my obligation to introduce some variety into my humdrum life - and that’s a good excuse for me to join ‘beauty box schemes’ and be introduced to new things on a regular basis. The brand Merumaya is one to which I was introduced via the Youbeautydiscovery monthly members’ box. I received two products - a small tube of the Overnight Recharge Night Cream and a much larger tube of a strange type of cleanser. What is Merumaya? I had never heard of Merumaya before and I’ve found their website quite tricky to negotiate when trying to find out more. I really do appreciate a good ‘about us’ section on any company website and theirs is not an easy one to follow. However, I’ve picked up a few bits of info to pass on. The company was founded by a lady called Maleka Dattu who had many years of beauty industry experience. She may have left behind the corporate rat race but she’s still adept at churning out some good old industry ‘marketing bullshit’ (as my old colleague would have called it - I work in marketing so I’m allowed to use the term). We learn that she worked for Origins in the UK and the USA and also for Lancome where “ I provided a retail and consumer focus to revitalise engagement and ...

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever - Marie Kondo 20/05/2015

For everyone who wants to find their inner minimalist

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever - Marie Kondo It exploded into my life I am by nature very untidy and horribly prone to hoarding. Whilst I might dream of a lifetime of minimalist living and aspire to a pared down Japanese home with a single piece of furniture and one flower artfully arranged in a vase, that will never be my life. I am a born and bred died-in-the wool maximalist who surrounds herself with more stuff than she could really need in a lifetime. Something has to change. I had been thinking about spending some money to install some new wardrobes. I could almost certainly squeeze another two large IKEA double floor to ceiling wardrobes into the space on the landing; maybe a couple of Billy bookcases too. Believe me, I have a very spacious landing! And then one day last week I spotted the title of a book that made me stop and think. That book was “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever” by Marie Kondo. In one of those all too rare moments of clarity I stopped and asked myself how two human beings, each with only one body, could fill six meters of IKEA cupboards plus a small walk in wardrobe in one spare room and two old fashioned wardrobes in another. Was it possible that I had my priorities wrong? That what I needed was not more storage but simply LESS STUFF? I downloaded Marie Kondo’s book to my Kindle and eyed it warily for a couple of days. I wasn’t sure that I would like what I found inside or that I was ready to make the changes she was going to demand of ...

Talika Eye Therapy Patch 17/05/2015

The Eyes Have It

Talika Eye Therapy Patch Eye Eye, Captain A couple of months ago I received a pair of Talika eye patches in my ‘lovemebeauty’ beauty box. I’ve now stopped my subscription to that scheme but if you’re interested, there’s a review of it here on Ciao from a few months back. If I had realised what these were, I might well have tried to get another set as they’re really quite an intriguing and interesting product. They are certainly unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. I expected these to be soggy fabric patches, probably soaked in something allegedly soothing that you then stick on your face. I had seen systems like that before. Indeed I remember in my early twenties using some eye patches from Yves Rocher that involved dropper bottles of goop and little pieces of white cloth. I was wrong - there’s nothing particularly soggy and nothing very faffy about these either. The first thing you’ll notice is that the patches aren’t wet although they do feel cool and slightly damp on your skin. They are also slightly sticky and this stickiness is essential to their re-usability. The manufacturers say they can be used 3 times but there are plenty of cases of people on the internet claiming to have used them 6, 9 or even more times. As long as you can get them to stick, they keep slapping them on again. The patches are supposed to go on for just 30 minutes but again, the internet soon reveals people using them for a lot longer and some even sleeping with them in place. The first couple of times I used ...

Fallen Fruits Esschert Best for Birds Bumble Bee House 16/05/2015

Don't Worry, Bee Happy

Fallen Fruits Esschert Best for Birds Bumble Bee House Let’s hear it for the bees It’s hard not to love bees; they may well be society’s favourite little insects, although lady birds might give them a run for their money. Bees not only look cute and furry, they also hold the future of human life on our planet in their little legs because without bees to pollinate plants, much of human life would be at risk. So let’s hear it for bees - the hard-working furry little heroes of the planet. I have a good friend who used to be ‘big’ in the world of bee research and he recently sent me a copy of a book on plants that attract bees to your garden. I was already pretty sure we were doing well. We have lots of lavender and several buddleias and the garden is always heaving with bees going about their business. I’m particularly fond of bumble bees, the big fat striped furry beasties. Bees at risk The UK has 24 different species of bumble bees and has lost two species in the last 80 years to extinction. They are bigger and hairier than honey bees or solitary bees and they live in quite different communities. Bumble bees form small nests of up to 400 bees with a queen bee in charge. Unlike honey bees, they only keep a nest for a single year. Different species nest in different ways and in different places. Some go into abandoned mouse holes in the ground, some like to nest in compost heaps or under garden sheds. Those that nest above ground may build homes in thick grass and some will move into old bird boxes or find niches in trees. ...

An Obedient Father - Akhil Sharma 15/05/2015

A Beautiful Book About A Horrible Man

An Obedient Father - Akhil Sharma Not one for the sun lounger An Obedient Father by Akhil Sharma is not an easy or comfortable book to read but is one the reader feels compelled to get through. It touches on horrible behaviour but oddly manages at times to make the reader almost feel sorry for its perpetrator. It shows us how easily relatively good or normal people slide into corruption and depravity. And then it offers us pretty much no hope that such people may find any redemption from their miserable lives. Like I said - not a comfortable book to work your way through. Daddy Dearest Ram Karan is a small cog in a big corrupt machine. He’s lazy and incompetent and he really doesn’t care, relishing the situation that has given him a role and responsibility that he acknowledges as far exceeding his talents and capabilities. As an official in the Physical Education department of the Delhi education system he spends his day helping his boss ‘Mr Gupta’ by carrying out small and mid-sized acts of corruption. He is ‘Mr Gupta’s moneyman’ - the one charged with responsibility for collecting bribes and ‘gifts’ for his boss and occasionally extorting small favours for himself. It’s just a job and many others are doing similar acts of extortion on a day to day basis. He doesn’t feel particularly bad about it. Mr Gupta’s gifts from the schools and suppliers go partly into his own pockets and mostly to the Congress Party, the political rulers of India at the time the book is set. Mr Gupta’s money buys political ...

180 Cosmetics Pure Swiss Hyaluronic Serum + Vitamin C 14/05/2015

For fresh, plump, bouncy skin

180 Cosmetics Pure Swiss Hyaluronic Serum + Vitamin C Not just cheese and cuckoo clocks My review today is of a product called ‘180 Pure Swiss Hyaluronic Serum + Vitamin C’. As you can see it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue - but it’s not FOR your tongue, it’s for your face and it’s pretty wonderful stuff and worth a little bit of effort to track it down. Why it should be significant that the stuff is Swiss is a mystery to me or why that claim should be seen to be relevant. But that's just what it is. I bought my 15 ml bottle from in the USA. I had about 50 dollars of credit earned from other websites and no idea what to spend it on. A friend whose mother lived in the US agreed to let me order a few items and have them sent to her mum’s address and she then brought them back for me. This was one of those items. If I had realised quite how small the bottle was, I might have thought twice about it but that would have been a shame as I really like this product. Who are 180 Cosmetics? Firstly I should explain it’s actually 180 degree Cosmetics - I can’t do the little degree sign on my computer. The idea - I assume - is that they make products that turn your life (or skin) around 180 degrees. Who they are is a bigger mystery and they’re not very forthcoming on their website - - where I can’t track down even what nationality they are. The information on the bottle identifies the manufacturing site as ‘Dr M Burstein Ltd’ and the ‘responsible person’ as the same Dr M Burstein in Slovenia. A word to ...

Regatta Landbreak Women's Parka Jacket 13/05/2015

The Coolest Warm Coat I've Ever Had

Regatta Landbreak Women's Parka Jacket Cold Hands, Warm Heart It sometimes seems like my husband’s mission in life is to stop me from freezing to death. When he first met me I had a drafty old house that I couldn’t afford to heat and I’ve always been too mean to turn the heating on when I’m the only person in the house. I’m equally prone to going out woefully under-dressed in cold weather. He therefore has a tendency to buy me warm things to try to keep me alive. Sweet, isn’t he? For the past couple of winters I’d been wearing a couple of coats that weren’t really suitable. One was a couple of sizes too big and the other was a very lightweight waterproof. He decided to put things right and bought me a Regatta women’s ‘Landmark’ parka jacket for Christmas. Now as the days get warmer and longer, IÂ’'m about to put it away in the cupboard for winter and decided it was finally time to write about the coat that’s kept me warmer and drier than I’ve been in years. Buying clothes for your spouse is always a fraught affair. I gave up trying early in our marriage when I realised that nothing I bought was ever seen again. Hubby still keeps going and I think he hit the jackpot with this jacket. If you are interested - and you’re the kind of forward thinking person who’s willing to buy something out of season in order to get a bargain, this coat is currently available on the Regatta website at just £30, down from it’s original £80 price tag. How much do I love this coat? So much that I just ordered another one in a ...

Westwoods Insect Hotel 12/05/2015

Would you want to stay at a bug hotel?

Westwoods Insect Hotel I blame Monty Don On Friday nights it can seem like the whole nation is glued to gardening shows - or at least those of my parents’ generation. On a visit to stay with them last year, I found myself watching Monty Don doing his ‘stuff’ on one of the BBC2 gardening programmes. He went to visit a lady who had a small garden and had given it over to encouraging all manner of bugs and winged beasties to live there. I’ve never been much of a gardener but I was really taken with the idea of bug-friendly gardening and making little critters welcome. When I was asked what I wanted for Christmas, I sent my mother and my sister a list with some Amazon links. I like to make it as easy as I can. Top of my list was a bug hotel and I was very pleased that my sister bought me one for Christmas. It has been out in the garden for about 6 weeks now and I can’t honestly say that there’s a lot of sign of ‘action’ in it or my other bug house but I remain optimistic. That said, I did spot that a bee had moved in and blocked up one of the tubes this weekend so there could well be an egg behind that. We’ve given up on bird boxes in our garden and on bird tables or bird feeders. We have three cats and any food we put out - no matter how well protected from cat attack - simply sits there until it goes black or starts to sprout. I figured if I can’t encourage the birds, maybe I can make up for it by making nice homes for the bees and other bugs, especially since the absence of birds makes it a nice ...

Nourish Argan Beauty Collection 11/05/2015

A Suitable Gift for Baby Jesus?

Nourish Argan Beauty Collection Boxing Clever? The Nourish Argan Beauty Collection is a boxed set of products that I would assume were launched for last Christmas and which I picked up half price - at £12.50 instead of £25 - in the Debenhams website sale a few weeks ago. I was amused by their ‘gold, frankincense and myrrh’ containing products and figured for that price they were worth a look. Since I’ve had a variety of ‘Nourish’ products before and always thought them to be quite good, it didn’t seem like too much of a risk. I won’t go into too much detail about each of the products since I may want to review some of them individually later on. What I’d focus on instead is how well they work together as a potential ‘gift set’, especially a festive one. What you get The set comes in a small box with a festive over-sleeve that’s decorated with gold and black snowflakes and a gold band down the front of the box. It’s eye catching without being too over-the-top Christmassy. The box is not oversized for the contents but the oversleeve seems a bit of an overkill when there’s still another box underneath and I’d say there’s room for improvement. It’s a good thing I bought this as a gift for myself and not someone else as the inner box had a lining with holes for the three products that was ripped at one end. I’d have been embarrassed to offer it as a gift in the condition in which I received it. The box contains three products, each in rather small sizes. The products inside The smallest is the 5 ml ...

Aldi Garden Work Tray 10/05/2015

Get your compost off the coffee table

Aldi Garden Work Tray Going Potty In a perfect world, every gardener would have a potting shed where he or she could pot and potter around but it seems such things are throwbacks to long ago days. I don’t think I know anyone with a potting shed but the need to muck about with seeds and seedlings didn’t go away when the potting shed stopped being a regular fixture in the nation’s gardens. My husband has a tendency to buy cheap ‘plug plants’, pot them into small peat pots and then keep them in the kitchen until they’re big and strong enough to go into the garden. In spring when it’s still quite cold, I wouldn’t want him to feel he had to go and muck about with his seedlings and plug plants in the garden shed or in the greenhouse but I’m not overly keen on finding compost all over the kitchen table. Hence I was really impressed when he came home one day with a plastic garden work tray that he’d picked up in Aldi for a fiver. The first time I saw it I thought it was the black plastic skateboard ramp he got from the recycling shop and which he uses for moving the wheelie bins. Then I realised this wasn’t just ‘any’ lump of black plastic - it was a peace-keeping device that would enable him to pot up plants on the coffee table without me (and our neighbour who does our cleaning) screaming at him. Apparently we (by which he means he with the shared credit card) bought something similar for my step-father and he had wanted one ever since. £4.99 for sheer genius This is a very simple piece of moulded ...

Auroville, India 09/05/2015

Golden Balls and Happy Cows

Auroville, India Auroville - the experimental community Auroville is one of the strangest places in the world; a place so unique and completely bonkers that you really do have to shake your head and wonder if you’ve slipped into a parallel universe. Imagine a sort of religiously inspired Milton Keynes mixed with a hippy colony and a holiday camp and you’re still only a tiny percentage of the way towards ‘getting’ Auroville. And to make it all the more astonishing, it’s in southern India near the old French colonial city of Pondicherry (now known as Puducherry). We went to have a look one Sunday last October whilst we were staying in Pondicherry. What is it? Auroville refers to itself as an ‘experimental township’ and it’s been a long time in the making. It also has a long way to go before it will be finished - if it ever is. It was inspired by the philosophy and teachings of a woman known as ‘The Mother’ and her mentor, a guy called Sri Aurobindo. They preached a sort of anti-religious religion (if you see what I mean) based on principles of human unity from an ashram in Pondicherry. The Mother was born as Mirra Alfassa in 1978 to an Egyptian mother and Turkish father who emigrated to France shortly after her birth. She met Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry in 1914 and he became her mentor. She claimed he was the man she’d seen in psychic visions and whom she knew would reveal her future mission. She left for a few years because of the First World War and then returned to live permanently in ...

Restaurant Hotel de l'Orient, Pondicherry 08/05/2015

Getting your L'Orientation in Pondicherry

Restaurant Hotel de l'Orient, Pondicherry Memories are made of this The first time we went to the south Indian town of Pondicherry, I instantly fell in love with the place. It rained for most of the day, we got soaked to the skin but nothing could hide that it was an amazing place. It was the combination of the seaside setting, the French colonial architecture and the mix of western and Indian influences that made it compelling. Plus we got blessed by a temple elephant and met lots of hippies - all in one day. What more could you ask for? During that trip we had lunch in a little hotel a block away from the sea front. I forget the how or why of the place but I suspect our driver that day dropped us outside and pointed us in. It turned out to be gorgeous - both the place and the food - and when I started planning our return last year, this was the place I wanted to stay. I managed to track down that it was the Hotel L’Orient after recognising the photos on a website. At the time I was booking there was no availability and I opted instead for a cheap and cheerful place a bit further from the sea but knew that I would want to track it down for at least one good meal. We popped into the L’Orient for a drink one lunch time shortly after arriving in Pondicherry. This was mostly to make sure it really was the place we’d thought it was but it was also a chance the check out the menu, find out what time they opened for dinner and whether we’d need a booking. On that visit we polished off two delicious iced coffees on the ...

Face Matters Evening Elixir 06/05/2015

Mind Over Matter - or a £102 bottle of oily sludge

Face Matters Evening Elixir First the real shocker My bottle of Face Matters Evening Elixir would set you back £102 for a 30 ml bottle and is unquestionably the most expensive bottle of skin care product I’ve ever had in my life. But does price guarantee quality or effectiveness? Perhaps the fact that I still have over half a bottle more than a year after I got it (for free, I have to stress) tells you that it’s not the answer to my skincare prayers. Technically it has a 6 month ‘use after opening’ guideline but it’s just too expensive to throw away, still smells great and I say “waste not want not”. Who are they? Face Matters is a small company in Hampshire making expensive facial care products with big claims about their effectiveness. The company was started in 2012 by Sally Curson, a 20 year veteran of the beauty business who wanted to create products that were both natural and highly effective. She started formulating her own products in 2008, aiming to use natural botanical oils to nuture the skin and reduce lines and wrinkles. Face Matters has a range of just five products and the Evening Elixir is the jewel in the crown and far and away the most expensive of the products. I’m quite a fan of facial oils and I’ve used several in the past few years. I have quite dry skin so they work well for me. However, the miracle ingredient of the product I tried - the Face Matters Evening Elixir - is one that leaves me rather confused and a bit sceptical. That ingredient is described by Face Matters as ...

Dr. Lipp Original Nipple Balm for Lips 05/05/2015

Dr Lipp - for Nips and Lips

Dr. Lipp Original Nipple Balm for Lips You put it WHERE? Every few years an unexpected product - often something designed for a totally different purpose - comes along and shakes up the beauty world. I recall otherwise rather genteel ladies going loopy in Waitrose trying to track down the Baby Bottom Butter that hit the headlines a few years ago and plenty of tales about supermodels using Preparation H pile gel to tighten up the bags under their eyes. I can imagine that Dr Lipp’s ‘original nipple balm for lips’ might well have emerged out of such a frenzy amongst nursing mothers. Now I’ve never had kids and never had any need for a ‘nipple balm’ so I have to take the manufacturer’s word for it when they claim that this stuff is sensational for calming an over-munched nip. I can only account for its effectiveness on lips. Let me stress - given the gynaecological nature of its origins - it’s for the lips on your face. Not the other ones. And let’s move on quickly. Testing Times I first heard about the product through one of the many beauty boxes I’ve tried over the past few years. I forget which one but my first sample tube was so small and the product so hard that I couldn’t actually get any of the goop out of it and had to throw it away. In the 2013 Youbeautydiscovery advent calendar I got a full sized 15 ml tube and I’ve been giving it a go ever since. A 15ml tube will cost you £11.50 which is not cheap and is considerably more than I’d consider paying for such a product when there are many really effective lip ...
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