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Marks and Spencer''s ''Count On Us'' ready meals offer lower calorie choices than their standard and luxury ranges. This chicken and asparagus risotto comes in at a very reasonable 365 calories and for that you get a great taste and a meal that will actually satisfy and not leave you ravenous and ready to eat the walls again about 10 minutes after finishing it as with some lower quality ''diet'' ready meals.
The Risotto contains strips of moist, juicy chicken, with peas and asparagus all in a rich and creamy risotto that''s full of flavour. If you were judging by taste alone you''d never suspect that this was supposed to be part of the ''healthy'' low cal range, it can definitely pass for a more indulgent option.
The chicken tastes like its pretty good quality, its not dry or stringy like the chicken in lots of ready meals, its really succulent and tender, and soaks up the juices from the risotto brilliantly. The green veg is flavoursome too, not boiled to oblivion, or floppy and lifeless, it tastes almost as good as if you''d cooked it from fresh. The rice is pretty much as you''d expect to be honest, decent enough risotto rice that holds in the juices that give the whole thing its flavour.
This risotto can be cooked in the oven, and it will taste better if you do, but its also absolutely fine in the microwave and doesn''t go chewy or tough or crispy. Its great for taking to work for lunch if you have a fridge and microwave available on your lunch break. The portion size is generous, and it smells lovely as it comes out of the microwave.
The only downside is that, like a lot of M&S food, its a bit on the pricey side. Keep an eye out for special offers though as the Count On Us range is often included in multi buys and that''s a good opportunity to stock your freezer with tasty, healthier ready meals for those days when convenience is more important than cooking from scratch.
As I work shifts, and often long hours, I sometimes find myself feeling a bit less than perfect without actually feeling ill. A bit more tired, a bit less energy, a bit more prone to headaches and sniffles and so on. Nothing major, just what my mum would call ''run down''. When this happens, I turn to my Tesco multivitamins with iron and for a week or two I''ll take one a day.
Its very hard to judge the effectiveness of a multi-vitamin. I do feel as though they help me to feel a bit more energised and healthy but I can''t discount the possibility that this is either a bit of a placebo effect, or the results of me noticing that I''m getting a bit run down and generally making more effort to be healthier/get more sleep/eat right and so on. There are lots of conflicting articles and opinions out there in the press and its hard to know whether vitamins are just a waste of money, but my philosophy is that as long as I don''t take the wrong amount I am unlikely to be doing any harm and may just be doing a bit of good!
The tablets are round, a dark pinkish colour, and are not so big that they''re difficult to swallow. Much smaller than a paracetamol for example. If you keep them on a bedside table/drawer then its really easy to remember to take one just before bed. The pot they come in is not particularly exciting. A plain blue label has a list of the vitamins that are contained, and tells how much of your recommended daily allowance is in each tablet (its 100% for all of them!) plus the expiry date (they last about 2 years). The lid is technically the childproof kind where you need to push the sides in before you can twist it off. It wouldn''t take a very clever child to work out how to open this though, its fairly flimsy, so if you have kids around the usual rules about medicines apply!
I''m going to keep having these multivitamins from time to time when I feel as though I can benefit. It may well be that they aren''t doing me much good, but at 60p for 30 tablets, its worth the outlay just in case!
I''ve tried the Slim Fast diet a few times over the years. While new products and variations have been introduced over the years to add a bit extra to the range, the fundamental principles remain the same. You have a Slim Fast shake for breakfast, another for lunch, and then have a ''healthy'' 600 calorie meal for dinner. These days, you can substitute a shake for a soup, and you can have a couple of small Slim Fast branded snacks such as crisps and mini chocolate bars during the day.
The shakes are available as a powder that you make up with milk, or in ready-to-drink bottles that you can take to work/on the go. The powder shakes taste a lot better in my opinion, but obviously the bottles are more convenient if you''re not at home. There''s a good range of flavours, including a coffee flavour and a couple of ''smoothie style'' drinks. The variety available does mean that its easier to follow the plan now than it used to be when the choices were limited to strawberry or banana!
The Slim Fast plan is not the healthiest way to diet. The products are high in sugar, very processed and its not easy to get your 5 a day without careful planning and effort. However, as a short term fix, it does give results. If you have a wedding, or a holiday coming up and just want to lose a bit of weight quite quickly its not a terrible plan to follow. If you''re looking to change your lifestyle long term or have a substantial amount of weight to lose, this isn''t the way.
Every time I''ve done this, I''ve been fine for a few days in the initial enthusiasm and motivation buzz, but then I''ve started to get thoroughly fed up of the shakes, craving real food and spending all day thinking about what I''d have for my 600 calorie tea! I always found myself getting headaches, and not having as much energy or ''get up and go'' as usual. I think the longest I''ve managed to stick to this plan is two weeks, and it normally ends with a chinese takeaway and a bounty as I finally give in to the building temptation!
In conclusion, this is just about ok as a quick fix, but if you want something more sustainable then find a diet that allows you to eat real food and join in with social occasions.
My dogs have been on Harringtons for a couple of years now. They''ve tried three different flavours in that time but the one that seems to be the most popular is this Turkey and Veg variety. I switched from James Wellbeloved to Harringtons for a number of reasons. The first reason was cost, as this is a much cheaper food and as I''m not at all well off this is always a consideration. The second was convenience, as Harringtons is available from major supermarkets including Tesco, Asda and Sainsburys so it is much simpler to get it along with your weekly shop than having to make a special trip to a pet shop. Its much easier if you suddenly realise that you''ve run out when the pet shops are closed! The third and most important reason was a recommendation from a trusted family member, who told me that their dog was happy and healthy on Harringtons and that their digestive problems had vanished since swapping to it.
My dogs didn''t have any major health issues before switching, but I have noticed since being on Harringtons that their digestive health has been good with very few incidents of upset stomachs and very healthy looking poos! Their weight has stayed stable, their coats/ears/eyes/nails etc. are all in good condition and they have plenty of energy without being hyper or stressed out. I''m not attributing all of this to their food of course, but as they say you are what you eat and I bet that if their food was wrong i''d soon start to see signs of it!
Harringtons comes in small 2kg bags and larger bags of either 5 or 15kg. I tend to get the 5kg bags as these last a decent amount of time but aren''t so big I can''t carry them home. With the small bags, they only seem to last about 5 minutes, while the biggest bags take up far too much space. The packaging is pretty attractive very neutral ''earthy'' colours to reflect the brand''s claims that it is a natural, hypoallergenic, wholesome food. There is information on the bags about what the food does and doesn''t contain.
Most importantly (to the dogs at least) they really enjoy the taste. Its been a couple of years now and they don''t seem to have got fed up of it as they have with some other foods/toys/treats etc. They still get excited when they see the bag appear, so its a seal of approval from two happy hounds!
I use this hairspray quite frequently, as unfortunately I have annoyingly floppy, soft, wavy hair that doesn''t hold any style for long without copious amounts of a good strong hairspray. Well, unless its the hippy flowing look! This hairspray is basically a workhorse of the hairspray world. It does what it says on the tin and holds your hair in place really firmly until you wash or brush it out. It doesn''t do anything special or pampering like giving your hair shine or condition or a lovely scent. Its for when you need every hair to stay in place and everything else is a lower priority. After spraying a good amount of this, your hair won''t move unless there''s a hurricane, but it will feel like waxy plastic and lose all its natural movement and texture. I''ve found its great for updos, or for keeping fringes in the right place, its not so good for ''hair down'' styles or softer, more bouncy/flowing styles as its so stiff and rigid once its set. The spray lasts really well, you can be confident that your style will hold all day or all night, but the downside of this is that its a complete pain in the posterior trying to brush it out. Unlike some newer, more expensive hairsprays this takes some serious effort and time if you want to make sure you get the spray out without causing breakages or major tangles and knots. Definitely do this before going to bed, it will be worse in the morning if you don''t! Another downside is that even after brushing it out it leaves behind a sticky, artificial feeling residue on your hair and it doesn''t go back to looking its ''natural'' self. Really, you have to wash your hair to get rid of this spray fully. So, to conclude, if you want hair that doesn''t move, or need to feel confident that your complicated style will last then this is a great option. If you''re looking for an everyday more natural approach then this is probably not the best choice. Its good value for money too, usually available from pound shops or places like Home Bargains in a good sized can.
I needed a liquid eyeliner as part of a fancy dress costume! I''m not normally very good at applying them so I chose this Barry M eyeliner as it looked like it would be easier to brush on than the ones that look like pens. I was really pleasantly surprised by this eyeliner, and I''ve even gone on to use it a few times when not in fancy dress! The container is a little bit like a nail polish, with a small bottle containing the liquid and a longer applicator brush attached to the lid. It doesn''t get sticky, or collect any flaky residue around the top of the bottle, which is nice. The brush is only small and fine, but you can vary the thickness of the line you achieve by varying the pressure you apply it with, very much like using a little paintbrush. I was delighted by how easy it was to draw on clear, well defined lines and shapes. The colours are strong and clear too, maintaining their boldness and brightness for hours after being applied. I used gold and black and they were really bright and eye catching all night. The gold wasn''t overpowered by the black. Despite the fact that this eyeliner stays put brilliantly, its also really easy to remove. Not as easy as a kohl or a softer eyeliner pencil but its only a few minutes gently using a normal facial wipe and it all came off with no problems. My skin was a little bit red where the lines had been, but no itchiness or soreness and the redness had disappeared by the next morning. So, to conclude, this is a great, fun liquid eyeliner. Easy to apply and be creative with, and stays put for just as long as you want it to. Go crazy and draw some crazy patterns round your eyes!
I tried this Boots own brand dry shampoo a while back as I usually use Batiste and its a bit on the pricey side! This seemed a bit more reasonable so worth a try. Well, you get what you pay for! The can looks like it belongs to a poor quality ''value'' brand, with its plain white packaging, and that turned out to be about right. The spray feels really weak and ineffective as you put it on, and when you try to rub it in to distribute the dry shampoo through your hair it has a very unpleasant great and sticky feel to it. Even leaving the shampoo on for a bit to ''settle'' or absorb moisture from the hair didn''t really seem to help. I was very glad I hadn''t put this on in order to go straight out as my hair looked worse after the dry shampoo than it had before! It made it more greasy and more lank and flat looking, whereas you want a dry shampoo to give your hair a boost in between washes, to dry out and soak up a bit of the grease/oils and inject a bit of volume and body. This dry shampoo basically did the exact opposite of what it was intended to! I never actually used it a second time, the can was hanging around in my bathroom for months half empty before I finally threw it away. It really didn''t have anything going for it. It did nothing for the appearance of my hair, nothing for the condition of my hair, and it didn''t have a nice scent to it either. It smelled pretty neutral and unfragranced with just a hint of that generic ''aerosol'' scent that gets to the back of your throat! Stick with Batiste, sometimes a familiar name and a slightly higher price tag are a good indicator of the quality you''re getting!
Oat So Simple is a way to have porridge without having to start from scratch with a bag of oats! Its an instant porridge, all you need to do is add milk and microwave and hey presto, lovely breakfast! The porridge oats come in individual sachets, 8 to a box, which are a perfect serving size for breakfast, or even for a light lunch or snack on the go. You rip the sachet along the line on the outside, pour the oats into a bowl, then fill the empty sachet with milk up to another line printed on the inside. Add the milk to the bowl, pop in the microwave for 2 minutes and then you''ve got your breakfast. Although it does take a few minutes to cool enough to eat, and you''ll need to give it a good stir to make sure its all thoroughly mixed. I find this brilliantly convenient, which is the best thing about it really. This particular flavour is my favourite and the one I have most often. There is a reasonable amount of fruit in it, although let''s face it its not the same as putting it in fresh yourself and there''s never as much as you''d expect from looking at the pictures on the box! The blueberries are the nicest, strongest flavour in there giving it a really fresh, fruity, tangy edge to it that''s great for starting the day. The porridge leaves you feeling full for hours and hours, I sometimes work right through lunch so last 8 or 9 hours on a bowl of this and don''t suffer too much for it! There aren''t really many downsides? One is that its not really great for on the go, as you have to make sure you have cold milk, a bowl and a microwave available. Another is that judging the amount of milk is not an exact science as the paper packet is not rigid so its possible to get it a bit wrong either way and end up with too much or not enough milk. Too much isn''t so bad, you just leave it to ''set'' a bit longer, but too little is really annoying when it happens and you end up with a sticky gloopy mess! If you have these enough though, you get the knack! These are usually on offer at one of the big supermarkets all the time. They are more expensive than the own brand versions but they do come in a wider variety of flavours to justify the price.
I tried the Tesco own brand apple shampoo as I like the Alberto Balsam version and this one looked similar but a little bit cheaper.
Its been ok, but the bottle is nearly empty now and on my most recent shop I''ve gone back to the Alberto.
The shampoo lathers really nicely, but you do have to use a decent amount to get that effect, and to feel as though your hair is really squeaky clean. It takes a bit longer to rinse out than some other shampoos too and if you''re not very thorough and careful when rinsing you get a horrible sticky residue and need to get back in the shower!
The shampoo is not for any specific hair type, and it doesn''t really do anything for the appearance of your hair. It doesn''t give it any volume boost, or make it any shinier, it really does just clean it. If anything I think my hair is a bit limper than usual since using this, although it could be the very humid weather recently!
The shampoo has a fairly nice smell as you''re using it, fresh and crisp, it does have a hint of apple but its a bit too artificial to be completely convincing on that front! Sadly, the fragrance doesn''t really hang around after rinsing it off as some fragranced shampoos do. The bottle appears to be a decent size and looks as though it will last a long time, however because you need so much each time to get a good lather and clean it actually goes down quicker than expected.
The one final problem with this shampoo is that it seems to have the strange effect of making my hair tangle every time I use it, this may also be partly to do with the matching conditioner I''ve also been using, but even when I brush my hair before washing and take care not to tangle it too much, it still ends up bedraggled and I have to drag a wide tooth comb through all the knots. Just a word of warning for people who have hair prone to breaking or knotting.
I bought Insette hairspray purely because it was the cheapest on the shelf at Home Bargains. Well, it turns out you get what you pay for and I''ll happily pay a little bit more in future to get a hairspray that isn''t so totally useless!
Considering its supposed to be extra hold, it doesn''t really hold a style in place at all. A very slight breeze, or just nodding your head a bit too vigorously is enough to render this hairspray completely pointless. I don''t have particularly thick or unruly hair, normally a fairly cheap hairspray (and not a lot of it) is enough to keep my hair neatly in place all day. With Insette I''m lucky if I can get 5 minutes out of the house before its starting to flop about and look really scruffy!
All this hairspray actually does, is make your hair feel a bit sticky and unpleasant, and when you do come to brush it out there''s an unpleasant greasy feeling residue that only goes when you come to wash your hair. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that you end up using quite a lot of the stuff in order to try and get it to work!
The can itself looks pretty old fashioned, a very plain white can with a blue logo and a bit of a blue ''swoosh'' type thing that was probably at the cutting edge of product design about 40 years ago! Not that it really matters what the can looks like, but I do appreciate a nice looking container when something is going to be out on display on my bathroom shelves!
I switched to BT from Sky purely for cost reasons, to get a cheaper bill by taking advantage of an introductory offer. With the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn''t choose BT Broadband now even if it were free! I''m just waiting out my contract and in a few months I''m switching, probably back to Sky. First, the few positives. The free router is easy to set up and is reasonably sleek looking. When the connection is actually working and running smoothly I can''t complain about the speed of it, nice fast downloads. As a BT customer you apparently get free access to wifi hotspots out and about, and although I''ve never actually used this service, there''s no denying its a handy one for a lot of people who work on the go. Onto the negatives though... Well, the service is not at all reliable. At random times about twice a week the broadband light on my router will turn orange for no apparent reason and I''ll lose the connection for anything from 10 minutes to a few hours. There doesn''t seem to be any rhyme or reason to this. I''ve long since stopped following the instructions on the ''help'' page that appears as it doesn''t do any good, its just a case of waiting. Even when the connection is up and running, every now and then it will have a little hissy fit and just stop dead for a few seconds. Not a huge problem, but a real pain if it does it say, when you''ve just clicked submit on a job application, or just hit the button to send a substantial bank transfer, and you then have to go through the rigmarole of checking whether your info was sent or not. Another annoyance, although not a major one is that the network randomly chucks my iPad and iPhone off every now and then. Just randomly disconnects them so that I have to reconnect. Again, not that serious a problem, but if you''re watching something on Netflix and it keeps stopping dead and you have to go into settings to re-connect to wifi, its a bit of an annoyance! I realise all these things sound completely petty, but when you pay for a broadband service you want it to just quietly work, and be there for you to rely on. With BT, you don''t get that reliability, you''re always wondering when the next problem will crop up!
The Lowry theatre is one of the newest in the Manchester area, built at the beginning of the redevelopment of Salford Quays along with the Lowry outlet mall and the Imperial War Museum North. Its now well and truly ''settled in'' and is a key part of the cultural life of the Greater Manchester area. The Lowry has two theatres, a very large one called the ''Lyric'' with a huge stage, huge stalls area and two circles. There is also the much smaller more intimate ''Quays'' theatre which is much smaller, with a main stalls area, a small upper tier and just a few rows of bar style seating around the edges. The bigger, nationally famous acts tend to be on in the Lyric. The variety is impressive, ranging from comedians, to plays, to ballet, to musicals and even an ice skating show recently! The stage is big enough that it can be adapted to almost anything, but not so big that one person seems ''lost'' in the middle of it like on an arena stage. The Lyric theatre seating is very comfortable and modern, a decent amount of leg room and you aren''t too bunched up next to your neighbour as in some older theatres that were presumably built when nobody was above about 5ft tall! The view is pretty good from anywhere, no columns or anything getting in the way, but of course the stage is starting to look pretty small by the time you''re in the back of the upper circle, and you get a good look at the tops of the performer''s heads from the very very back! The Quays theatre is not as comfortable, the seats feel smaller and a bit more cramped. They''re still good just not as good as the Lyric! Whatever you do though, avoid the bar stool type seating around the edges. Its really uncomfortable and I''ve found it can actually ruin your enjoyment of a performance as you just can''t settle in and relax. The bars and restaurants at the Lowry itself are pretty pricey, but there are cheap places to eat just outside on the plaza of the outlet mall. Now I have to mention the car park. There is always ample parking at the Mall and getting onto it is never a problem. You can also get a discount if you get your ticket stamped at the customer service desk and avoid the queues for the ticket machines. However, escaping at the end of the show is a bit of a nightmare, the traffic just doesn''t flow easily and people are bumper to bumper for ages. There is a tram stop if you prefer public transport. The staff and volunteers are always really helpful and friendly, and a bonus is that you book your tickets directly through their box office, no ticketmaster or other third party, and a real person on the other end of the phone!
The Odeon cinema that used to be called ''The Filmworks'' is located inside the Printworks complex in the centre of Manchester, along with bars, restaurants and a gym, making it part of a pretty self contained entertainment centre. Its the most central cinema in Manchester, close to both main train stations (Victoria is nearest) and right by the Shudehill bus and tram stop. Its just across the road from the Arndale centre and Exchange square, so easy to access if you''ve had a day of shopping or sightseeing and want to catch a film before getting the train home. This cinema has the added bonus of having a huge IMAX screen, which is usually showing the biggest current blockbuster and is well worth the extra ticket price if you like films that are big on the visual effects, like the recent spate of superhero films, or the franchises. 3D glasses are free for IMAX films but have to be returned. The cinema has 23 screens, according to its website. I go all the time and didn''t realise it was that big! Its set out on 3 levels, and always had a good range of films on at a good variety of times so you can nearly always find a convenient time and if you just bowl up you''re not likely to have to wait long to see something you fancy. Customer service is great, the queues for tickets can get long, but there are always enough staff so they move pretty quickly. There are also ticket machines for picking up pre-booked or for buying on the day. I tend to go on Wednesdays and use my Orange Wednesday text code, which isn''t available on the machines so the queues tend to be quite long for popular films on Wednesdays. The seats are comfortable, you can pay extra for a ''Premier'' seat but I''ve never felt the need even for long films like the Hobbit. There''s more than enough leg room and every armrest has a good sized cup holder. There is a luxury option of sitting in the ''gallery'' for some showings. This is a small room up at the back of the cinema, separated by glass from everybody else, with super luxurious seats, tables, free food and soft drinks and you''re allowed to take alcohol in from the gallery bar. This is a bit pricey, but worth it if you want a one-off luxury experience, maybe for a birthday or a film you''ve been anticipating for years! The place is always clean, there are lots of options for drinks/sweets/snacks etc. and while the tickets are a bit more expensive than they would be at an Odeon in a smaller town, you get what you pay for with the choice, the setting, and the variety of films available.
As I write this, the weather is getter hotter and more humid and most people are probably using a bit more deodorant than usual! I always balk at paying a couple of quid for a branded deodorant and wondered if it was necessary. I gave the Tesco Value one a try just to see if it was as effective or if it would be a waste of money and I''d just have to buy an expensive one as well anyway. I was pleasantly surprised! Just to clarify, the name of the product has changed in line with the rest of the ''Value'' brand and is now labelled as ''Everyday Value'' and the packaging is plain green on white rather than the old familiar red and blue. The product is the same though and is still only about 40p for a can. The deodorant has no real scent, its not something you''ll be able to notice as you go about your day but equally its not the harsh chemical smell that you get with some cheaper aerosols, its just neutral. When spraying it, you don''t get that horrible harsh smell in the air that irritates the back of your throat either, you don''t have to hold your breath while you''re applying this! In terms of effectiveness, I''ve found it pretty good. The only thing that performs a bit better is a Mitchum deodorant but that can leave marks on lighter coloured clothes and is really pricey. This Tesco Value version leaves me feeling pretty fresh and not worrying about sweat patches unless I''m doing something really physical or its really really hot! I have noticed that I have to use a bit more than I normally would to feel fully protected. I''m not sure if that''s something to do with the design of the aerosol can as it seems to come out a bit ''thinner'' than others. I do get through the cans fairly quickly. I probably use 2-3 in the amount of time that I''d use 1-2 ''normal'' cans of the same size. However, because of the great price saving, that still works out cheaper and I tend to just buy two at once.
I''ve always had breakdown cover, just in case, but recently I''ve had cause to use it for the first time. I am currently with the AA and cannot praise them highly enough for the response I received to my ''emergency'' call.
I had broken down on a busy motorway in rush hour. The person I spoke to on the phone was clear, helpful and efficient at getting all the information she needed from me. She was also very good at making sure I did everything possible to stay safe while waiting for the patrol to arrive.
I received two text messages while waiting, updating me of the estimated arrival time of the patrol, which were accurate. I had been warned on the phone that I could be waiting up to an hour but was very pleased to see the familiar yellow van pull up just 25 minutes after I called them out. No complaints at all about response time, especially as it was rush hour in a busy city. They must have a decent number of vehicles spread out on the roads to get to people this quickly.
The patrol person (what is their job title? I have no idea!) was reassuring, calm and didn''t make me feel stupid for knowing absolutely nothing about my car beyond its colour and the number of wheels it has. He was able to fix the problem very quickly at the roadside while I waited behind the safety barrier, but then followed me all the way home to complete the paperwork as I was nervous about the same thing happening again.
So, absolutely top notch service in the event of a breakdown. What about the price? Well, there are cheaper options available but I think you probably get what you pay for a bit. There are enough options for different levels of cover that you can tailor it to suit you and pay as much or as little as you want. The only issue is that the best cover is a bit prohibitively expensive for those of us on low incomes which could result in issues if you breakdown. For example, I''m only covered for a tow to the nearest garage to where the breakdown happens, and would have to figure out how to get myself and my car home after that. Even at its most basic though, you know you aren''t going to find yourself stuck on a busy hard shoulder with a car full of smoke and facing a big bill just to get yourself out of that situation.
Joining the AA is really easy online, and there are often introductory offers, free trials of other products, and cashback available through Quidco.