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I'm usually very lazy with sauces, preferring to buy ready-made, bang-it-in-the-microwave pouches; or dried packet versions where all you need to add is a little milk. However, I do have an absolute "thing" for bread sauce and nothing from a packet or pouch has yet satisfied me, so - just in time for Christmas - here's a nice homemade recipe. The quantities given will make approx. 2 pints of sauce (a good jug full), but just scale up or down as needed. INGREDIENTS 2 x pints semi-skimmed milk 2 x dried bay leaves Whole black peppercorns - about 10 Large sprig of fresh rosemary or thyme (or both if you like) Half of a large onion - peeled but not chopped 2 x whole dried cloves Knob of butter Twist or large pinch of salt About 8 - 10 slices of bread (depending on thickness) - crusts removed METHOD In a large saucepan, pour in the milk and bring almost to the boil on a medium heat. Once the milk is just bubbling, add all the other ingredients EXCEPT the bread. Lower the heat, and allow the milky "stock" to simmer very gently for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the pan to cool for about half an hour. Pour the milky liquor through a sieve into a jug to remove the seasonings - these can now be thrown out. Pour the milk back into the pan and - again - bring to almost to the boil on a medium heat. Once bubbling, tear the crustless bread into large pieces and drop into the milk. Reduce the temperature so the sauce simmers very gently and keep stirring until the bread break down into the milk. Reduce the hob temperature to it's lowest setting and allow the sauce to simmer very gently whilst the bread dissolves fully - keep stirring every so often. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and season as required. I like to add a few twists of freshly ground black pepper and - sometimes - just a touch more salt (this usually depends on the salt content of the bread used). This bread sauce will keep well in the fridge for a couple of days, and can either be microwaved or re-heated in a pan before serving. If the sauce goes too thick after cooling, add a splash more milk. If it's a little thin, add a quick shake of plain flour to thicken it. This basic milk "stock" can also be used to make parsley sauce. Replace the rosemary or thyme with a few fresh parsley stalks when cooking. Instead of the bread, add another large knob of butter and about 30 grams of plain flour when the milk had been sieved and keep whisking it whilst simmering. Once thickened, chuck in a large handful of fresh chopped parsley. The parsley version keeps just as well in the fridge, and the fresh parsley brings out the flavour of fish much better than packet sauces. The one thing I would recommended with any milk-based sauces is not to make them in Teflon-coated pans - no matter how well you clean them afterwards, or how careful you are in your choice of utensils - a milk-based sauce will always rip the coating off. It's much better to use a traditional stainless steel or aluminium pan and just put up with the scrubbing that's involved in cleaning them! A Merry Christmas to everyone, and I hope this bread sauce compliments your turkey perfectly!
This is one of my favourite recipes for making cheese straws, which are great either as part of a large party buffet or if you just want to provide a few "nibbles". What they're not great for is your figure - cheesy pastry is always going to ruin your diet but - what the hell - it's Christmas! I can't attribute this recipe to anyone in particular - it's an amalgam of lots of different ones and a fair bit of trial and error. I've always thought of this as a really simple & quick recipe, but it's only when you start typing it up that it seems rather long and complex. I promise you it's not, and it's worth it. When choosing which cheese to use, it's pretty much a case of personal taste, but it does need to be something quite strongly flavoured. A mature cheddar is a safe bet, but I usually use a mix of cheeses - cheddar, parmesan & gruyere is my favourite - mix them in whatever quantities you fancy or have available. A small amount of Red Leicester works too - it doesn't have the strong flavour, but it gives a deeper colour. Seasoning is also a matter of taste. Cayenne Pepper or Chilli Flakes are good if you like things a bit spicier. Paprika is a milder option. Whichever you use, a little sprinkling should be enough - you don't want to kill the taste of the cheese. Salt is also an option - I use unsalted butter and don't add any additional salt to the mix as the cheese should provide enough. If you like your snacks a bit saltier then sprinkle some salt on when you lift the straws out of the oven whilst they're still hot enough to absorb it. Doing it this way also means you can just salt however many you want. One thing I have tried was adding a pinch of Celery Salt - this added a nice "tang" to the taste. -------------------- Ingredients Amounts given below will make about 40 straws (2 large baking trays full), or just scale up or down as needed. - Plain flour 200g - Butter 200g - Cheese 350g - 2 x medium egg yolks - ½ teaspoon Baking Powder - Black Pepper - Cayenne Pepper, Paprika or Chilli Flakes (or all 3 if you're brave) Method - First things first, pre-heat your oven to 220 C / gas mark 7, and prepare your baking trays by greasing them really lightly with olive oil and lining them with baking paper. Oh, and wash your hands. - Grate the cheese as finely as possible into a large mixing bowl and sift in the flour and baking powder. Add a couple of twists of black pepper and a sprinkling of cayenne, paprika or chilli flakes. - Chop the butter into small pieces (it's best to keep it chilled up until this point) and add it to the bowl. Now rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips until the whole mixture has a crumbly, "sandy" texture. This is my favourite bit, and very therapeutic. - Separate the egg yolks from the whites and add the yolks only to the bowl. Mix in with a palette knife or wooden spoon until the mixture starts to bind together (I prefer to use my hands, but it's not advisable if you've got long nails as it's a pain to get out from under them!). The mixture will remain quite crumbly but sticky. - Flour your work surface and rolling pin quite heavily, and tip the cheesy pastry out. Roll it out into as near to a square as possible, getting it to a thickness of about 7 or 8mm. Dip a sharp kitchen knife into flour and slice the pastry into "straws" - I do them roughly 15cm long by 2 cm wide. Don't worry about the edge ones being an uneven shape - these are your "test" ones once they're cooked - chef's privilege!!! - Lift each straw on the baking tray, leaving a little gap between each one to allow for expansion, and bake for between 6 to 9 minutes - the ones on the top oven shelf are usually ready first. They should be a pale golden colour (I always have to leave half a dozen in for another 3 or 4 minutes for the boyfriend who likes everything overdone!). - Once cooked, gently lift the whole sheet of baking paper with the straws on off the baking trays and leave to "set" for about 5 minutes before transferring onto a wire rack to cool. - Test the imperfectly-shaped ones just to make sure they're perfect!!! -------------------- These cheese straws are fabulous when eaten warm, and they usually are as they're so yummy. However, they will keep well for a couple of days - pop them in plastic storage boxes lined with kitchen roll as this absorbs some of the oil from the cheese and stops them going too chewy - store them in a cool place but not the fridge. They can also be re-warmed in the oven - pop them back in for about a minute in a pre-heated oven at the original cooking temperature. To serve, I stack them in criss-cross patterns on a large plate with a bowl of dip in the middle (gorgeous with tzatziki), or - if serving them cold - put them end-up in a jug or bowl. -------------------- And to end with, a little pastry-making tip from my dear departed Great Gran. Before doing your "rubbing-in" put your wrists under cold, running water for about half a minute then gently pat dry. This cools down the supply of blood going to your hands & fingers and stops the butter from getting too warm and making the pastry greasy.
I was surprised reading the reviews for Tescodirect.com that so many buyers have had negative experiences with them. Maybe I'm lucky, as I've found them to be fantastic. I'm a bit of Tescos girl - I like their products and I like their prices. Living in a smallish town, our local store isn't big. Although they do stock a good range of items - including electricals and clothes - the physical size of the store limits them somewhat, and so I turned to Tescodirect.com for anything I couldn't get locally. I've been using the service for about 18 months, and order regularly from a number of the individual "shops" under the Tescodirect.com umbrella. Firstly, I started ordering my contact lenses online from Tesco Opticians. I buy them in three month batches and they work out at £13 per pair, the cheapest I could find on the internet. My own optician was selling them at £27 per pair. He doesn't have the massive buying power that Tesco does, and he's been quite happy with me buying elsewhere. He's also been impressed that each time I order a batch, Tesco contact him directly to check that my prescription hasn't changed and that he's happy for them to supply me with that particular brand of lens. He's even recommended them to his own daughter as they can supply her lenses at a lower price than he could offer her at cost! I've bought quite a lot of non-grocery items - in particular, I've found their bedding, small electricals and kitchen utensils all to be great quality and very reasonably priced. Whenever I've made an order, it's been in stock when they said it was (if out of stock, they've back-ordered it for me), has arrived on time & well-packaged, and payment has been taken at the correct amount when the goods were dispatched. I've also used Tesco Flowers service on numerous occasions. I ordered a beautiful potted Bay Tree for my Nana last Christmas - it's a lovely little tree, was very reasonable, and was delivered direct to her door on the day I chose. They also put in a gift card with your own wording (up to 250 words) at no extra cost, and offer a range of "additional gifts" to add to the package (wine, chocolates, teddy bears, etc.) at much lower than their normal retail price. From their Flowers shop, I've ordered herb pots, new baby bouquets, indoor and outdoor plants and arrangements in vases to be delivered all over the country, and they've always been top quality and got there when I wanted. However, the one problem I did experience was when I ordered a large bouquet of roses and lillies to be sent to my Mum & step-dad, along with a bottle of wine and some chocolates. It was a gift for my Mum's birthday and their wedding anniversary (both on the same day - how romantic). I chose for the package to be delivered by courier rather than the "Flowers By Post" service as I wanted to specify a time-slot for delivery to make sure my Mum would be in. On this occasion, Tesco used a contracted-out courier service instead of their own delivery van as she lives in a very remote area. The courier didn't even attempt to ring the bell or knock on her door, instead choosing to throw the whole package over the side gate of her property - a drop of about 6 foot. He also put a delivery card through her door saying "package dropped over gate"!!! When I rang my Mum that evening to see if she had got her flowers and gifts, she told me what had happened to the package. Luckily, the flowers were well-boxed and undamaged, the chocolates were fine, but the bottle of wine had cracked (despite being well-wrapped in bubblepack). She told me the name of the courier company that had been used, and I promised to chase it up. I emailed Tescodirect Customer Services straight away and explained the situation. I received a reply email first thing the next morning expressing their apologies. They confirmed to me that - in light of the problem - they would no longer use that courier company. They also made a full refund to me of the total cost (even though it was only the wine that was damaged). 2 days later, they delivered to my Mum and step-dad 6 bottles of the same wine, another box of chocolates (same brand, but a larger box than was originally ordered), another rose and lily bouquet and a £20 Tesco Gift Card along with a letter of apology - now that's what I call customer service! I'll certainly continue to use Tescodirect. I've yet to try the online grocery shopping as my local store is only a few minutes walk away, but as I'm moving out to the sticks soon and I don't drive, I'll be giving it a go in the near future. If the service for grocery shopping is anywhere near as good as for non-grocery items, I'll be more than happy. A quick note to other buyers - when buying DVDs, CDs, games & books, follow the link on site to Tesco Jersey - there's no VAT charged if bought from the Jersey store, and the delivery charge (where applicable) is exactly the same, so you can save yourself a few quid. *** AN ADDITION TO THE ABOVE REVIEW *** I've just been to my local Tesco store and wanted a particular chocolate Advent Calendar for my step-son (Doctor Who CyberMen). They were sold out. The girl on the Customer Service desk checked online for me, and confirmed it was available via Tescodirect.com. As the calendar only costs £2.99, she's ordered it on my behalf to be delivered to the store in a few days, so I can pick it up and not have to pay the delivery charge. Again - they keep astounding me with their great service.
... to beef or not to beef ... Until I was writing another review on slow cooking, I'd almost forgotten that I used to be a vegetarian. Not just a part-time, still-eat-fish, still wear leather shoes kind of vegetarian; but a full-time, radical, meat-is-murder kind of vegetarian. I'm 34 now, and went full-time veggie when I was 7 years old. We were lucky in having a huge garden, and my Dad kept chickens for eggs and meat. Prior to me and my sisters being born, he'd also reared rabbits for meat. By the time I came along, the few remaining rabbits were pets with names (I still remember Chloe well - she hated me and would bite at any opportunity). The chickens were never named - my Dad refused - and they lived out nice lives in a 100 x 100 ft. garden with no restraints. If they were good layers, they stayed. If they weren't, they went to the pot. As a very impressionable 7 year old, I became attached to the chuck-chucks and - one late winter night - announced to Mum and Dad over dinner that "I'm not eating animals anymore". My Mum - bless her - took me at my word, never questioned my motives, and from that day on made something veggie-friendly for me. It must have been a real bind for her - she worked nights as a nurse on casualty (now A&E, and usually closed!), and had me, my two sisters and my Dad to feed before going to work. Making a different meal for me increased her work load. As I got older, I was "head chef" in our family, and - although I continued not to eat meat - prepared family meals with meat in. I learned to ask my sisters to taste things during cooking so I knew they were okay. I made my own, special meals and always tried to harrangue my family into going veggie - they resisted. As years went on, I actually became a cook in a small hotel. Although I still didn't eat meat or fish, I prepared it and cooked it for others as I didn't want to impose my beliefs on other people. As a cook, it was hard work - other kitchen staff were utilised to give opinions on the finished results, but I did develop a very keen sense of smell, being to be able to judge my own dishes by smell alone. I never had any complaints about my meals. I stuck with vegetarianism until the age of 29, but was increasingly ill with anaemia. I was weak all the time despite taking all the right supplements. My blood pressure dropped to an unsafe level - I have low blood pessure and a slow heart rate anyway, so this made the situation much worse. My worst time was visiting Brazil - they have no comprehension of what "vegetarian" means, and I quickly learned to ask for dishes "sin carne e sin pesche" (I think the spelling is somewhere near correct!) - "no meat and no fish". I seemed to live on fruit and plain boiled pasta & rice for 6 months. The Brazillians are big meat eaters - no wonder as the country is very poor, and livestock is the thing they have lots of - if meat is cheap and nutritious, then you eat as much as you can. On various occasions, family and friends would try to get me to try a little bit of something. I found that if I tried even a tiny amount of meat, I was violently sick - my body simply didn't know how to process it anymore after all those years. I got thinner and sicker over a year, and was finally "forced" to eat meat by my ex (gosh, that sounds dodgy!!!). He quite simply made a chicken casserole one night, put it on the table, and told me to "eat it or be hungry". I went hungry. The next night, he cooked steak and did the same. I went hungry again. The third night, he cooked fish and mash. I ate the mash, but was so hungry at this point that I tried one mouthful of the fish. I kept it down - just. This went on over the period of about 2 months, and I gradually started eating small amounts of fish, chicken and red meat. My health improved, my blood count went up, I didn't feel so lethargic. I now eat a moderate amount of meat in my diet - some days I don't bother, some days I'm a raving carnivore. But I do feel better for it. I wouldn't judge anyone who chooses to be a vegetarian or a vegan, but the pros have to be weighed up against the cons. If it's having a detrimental effect on your health, then no moral-highground will counteract that. If you feel happy and healthy on your diet, and you're getting all your body needs, then stick with it. Good luck to all who can stay veggie - morally, I'm with you and am very, very fussy about where my meat comes from. But good luck as well to all of us who aren't - vive la difference.
Forgive this long introduction - I'm feeling long-winded today ... Some of you may have noticed that it's now well into Winter. Some of you may not, if - like me - it's been barely indistinguishable from the dreadful Spring/Summer/Autumn we've had this year. Up here (or down, depending where you are) on the Yorkshire coast, the weather is still the same unremitting rain, wind, sleet and close-to-zero temperature that it's been all year, but darkness now falls early and all rational thoughts turn to roaring fires, early nights and proper "comfort" food. I love "proper" food. Stuff that's been made from scratch, preferably with some home-grown ingredients thrown in. Currently I don't have a garden, but I have a very generous and green-fingered Dad who does, and he keeps me in constant supply of fresh, organically-grown veg, fruit & herbs (can't wait until we move to the sticks in January - tiny cottage, big garden and a poly-tunnel await me!). As this supply of produce - particulary veg - is usually greater than than any sane person would go out and buy, I've always been very into "batch" cooking and then either freezing or giving away the excess - stews, casseroles, chillies, fresh stocks, savoury minces, etc. Which is where I actually get round to the point of the review (I know it took a long time, and I hope it's worth the wait) - slow cooking and slow cookers. I love slow cooking for a number of reasons. It's convenient and easy when you've got lots of other things to be doing and just want to come home to a ready-cooked meal. It improves the flavour of lots of dishes, and it stops you losing all the goodness out of vegetables by boiling away all the nutrients and vitamins then chucking them down the plug-hole with the excess water. The vision of a gently simmering casserole or stew through the glass lid of a slow-cooker is one of the most comforting things I can visualise in these long, dark months. I own a reasonably large slow-cooker - a Breville "Meal-Maker" with a 5.5 litre capacity. The exterior is a lightweight, insulated plastic containing the heating element. The black, enamelled crock that sits into it is oven-proof (a boon if you like crispy dumplings as you can pop it in the oven for 20 minutes to finish them off), and a glass lid with insulated handle so you can have a good peek in when the steam obscures your view of the joys within - note that the lid is NOT oven-proof. It has 3 heat settings (low, high & auto - the auto setting starts high then when a certain temperature is reached adjusts itself down, and vice-versa when high temps are reached again). However, it doesn't have a timer facility, but I plug it in via an electronic, pre-programmable timer switch if I'm out really early and don't want it to come on until later in the day. But what about cooking in Slow Cookers? I use mine for all sorts of things, but stick to some basic rules - if the dish contains meat, I always pre-cook it, usually a quick pan-fry is enough. The meat does not have to be totally cooked through, but should at least be "sealed". Left for a long enough time in a slow cooker, the meat would cook but will not have any colour and can get a little "flaky" (especially chicken). I never pre-cook the veg I'm adding, excepting potatoes which I par-boil. And ALWAYS remember to add a reasonable volume of liquid - don't worry if it's a little thin towards the end - it can always be thickened. Casseroles and stews are the easiest to prepare, and probably what 90% of people use their slow cookers for. I'm a chuck-it-in-and see-if-it-tastes-nice kind of cook, so just pan fry whatever meat you want (that's if you want any - I used to be a veggie so it's not compulsary), chop your veg and throw it in uncooked, add any herbs you fancy, and decide what stock or liquid to use. Fresh stock is good (if you don't or can't make your own, then Tesco Finest have great chicken or beef stock in pouches for about 90p - usually found near the gravy granules as they don't need to be refrigerated until opened) as this will give you a stronger flavour. Water is fine, as you can thicken it with gravy granules later. Wine adds an extra "oomph" (red or white, depending on the meat and your tastes), and I also find that a jar of passata is great with sausages, mince or strongly-flavoured meat or game to give a lovely, tomato base. (A quick note on stews here - I love celery in stews, but my partner doesn't - he thinks it goes too chewy. However, it really adds to the general flavour, so if you're not keen add a dash of celery salt instead). However, my favourite dish to cook in a slow cooker is chilli. The length and low heat of the cooking really brings out the "bite", and the longer it's left, the better it is. It's only when making chilli that I break one of my own rules about not pre-cooking veg. I fry off the mince (half beef mince and half lamb mince is my suggestion) with onions and garlic before adding to the slow cooker. Other than that, just use your own recipe and use passata, a splash of red wine and a drop of water as the liquid. Bear in mind that the leaner the mince, the better as the oil can seperate off when cooked over long periods. My partner likes a much milder chilli than me, so he gets his served on the day of cooking. To get a really fiery flavour, fridge the whole cooking crock overnight, then put it back in your slow cooker on low all day the next day - guaranteed tonsil-burning flavour!!! (me and my step-son prefer it the next day with very buttery garlic bread and just a small shaving of parmesan). All in all, a slow cooker is something that every kitchen should have. It's not just a Winter thing - I also use it for preparing fruits before jam-making earlier in the year, and it's great for bolognese, soups and curries. Would I be without mine??? - never. I even bought the same model as I own for each of my sisters last Christmas. Both the brother-in-laws seemed very disappointed at the time that the presents weren't more interesting, but they've changed their minds now they been fed so well for nearly a year! There are slow cooker cook books out there, although I've never bought one. I think it's case of trusting your judgement, experimenting, and discovering some fabulous flavours along the way - chuck it in, turn it on, and see what happens!!!
I'm pretty much a skinflint when it comes to toiletries and cosmetics, and so came across this shampoo when it was on a "buy one get one free" offer. Over the years, I've used a few of the Herbal Essences products, but this one is really fantastic. Promising "uplifting volume", it contains tangerine, lemongrass and aloe vera, and is advertised as being suitable for fine to normal hair. I've never classed my hair as "normal" (does anyone actually think their own hair is normal???), but it's certainly fine. I keep it cropped short, partly for ease and partly as it's got some mad kinks and curls in it if I let it grow. As anyone with fine, short hair will know, you need as much help with volume as possible as it tends to go very flat and limp very quickly. The smell of this shampoo is totally gorgeous - I'm sniffing the bottle as I type this as it's so addictive. The blurb on the back of the bottle describes it as an "energising, refreshing fragrance" and it certainly is - the lemongrass seems to form a nice top-note to the fragrance - and the smell lasts on your hair all day. The volumising effect takes a little longer to be noticable. After the first couple of uses, my hair seemed to be even finer than usual and very flyaway. It was incredibly soft and shiny, but also a bit "fluffy". However, I persevered, and after the fourth or fifth use I began to notice a perceptible "lift" in my hair. Even when I styled it using quite a heavy wax as a finsh, there was certainly more volume than before, and the volume, shine and softness lasts through the dampest, dizzliest (is that a word?) weather that good old Yorkshire can throw at me. Another advantage is that this shampoo hasn't irritated my sensitive skin. I've experienced problems in the past with irritation on my face and shoulders after rinsing off other shampoos, but this one's fine. In fact my partner loves the smell so much, he often uses it as a shower gel as well, although this could be laziness and not being bothered to open 2 bottles up in the shower. The only downside I can find with this product is the vicious, bright orange colour. As it's in a transparent bottle it's really noticable, and is exactly the same colour as the dog shampoo we use, which I've found slightly offputting! (a lot of the ingredients are the same as well, but then my dog deserves the best too!). Price-wise, it's reasonable - about £2.20 to £2.80 for a 400ml bottle depending where you shop, and can be found on offer pretty regularly in most supermarkets.
I bought this camera to take photos of items I was loading onto eBay. All in all, the camera was fantastic - good quality pictures, excellent zoom facility and top quality images when uploaded. However ( like another reviewer) I have have had nothing but problems with the software. Initially, everything was fine. Then I started to have problems connecting to the internet - I got a repeat message telling my that the Kodak EasyShare software was updating and to try connecting later. At one point, the Kodak software disabled by internet access for 2 days! My ISP were informed but couldn't do anything about it. I contacted Kodak directly, but their technical staff were both uninformed and very unhelpfull. I removed all the Kodak software from my PC, but was still experiencing problems. At this point, a number of photo files suddenly became inaccesible, and there are still about 200 or so photos that we cannot access. Only a few were actually taken on the Kodak camera (most being scans of real photos that we had for years), and even after employing a PC engineer to try and retrieve them, we have had no joy. The engineer said he had seen similar problems with Kodak software before. I contacted Kodak again, and they said it wasn't their problem and that the PC must be an old model or the processor out of date - our PC is only 6 months old - they refused to offer any other help. Even after removing the software, and also removing it from the "start-up" files, we have still experienced problems. Photos taken on our new camera (an Olympus FE-120 - fantastic and v. easy software to use) have suddenly "converted" themselves into Kodak EasyShare format only, as have a number of older saved pictures, so we can't access them any more. This sudden "conversion" of files seems totally random. I tried re-loading the EasyShare software to retrieve them, but this caused more problems again. All in all, although the camera is fine, do NOT buy it as you will only mess up your PC with the awful software. In fact, I would advise against buying any Kodak digital camera if this terrible software is what you get with it!!!
A FANTASTIC MOISTURISER AT A REASONABLE PRICE ... I'm not one to be sucked in by expensive advertising, so-called "celebrity" endorsement (who ARE those models/actresses that a lot of the other big companies use???) or hype. I first bought this product because I'd run out of moisturiser and it was on special offer in my local supermarket. - what a happy accident. My skin is a nightmare - in places it's very dry, around my nose and chin it's oily, and I tend to have hideous reactions to anything that's not 100% natural ingredient. But this is fantastic, and I also now use the Garnier UltraLift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Day Cream as well. I need a cream that has a high SPF (they both have factor 15) as I'm very fair-skinned and prone to problems with my moles & beauty spots. This product gives me everything I need and a bit more. It smells fantastic (a slight hint of the ginger it contains - yum yum), is easily absorbed into the skin, and improved the feel, texture and look of my skin after just one application. I recommended this to my mum and my two older sisters, and they all use it regularly now - like me, they all have sensitive but combination skin and have found it to be excellent.
AIR OPTIX NIGHT & DAY CONTACT LENSES from CIBA VISION -- bear with me, as this will be a very long review!!! -- I've been using these contact lenses for just over a year now, and have had no problems with them apart from the sightly fiddly individual lens packaging (open new ones over the sink and rinse with saline solution if they fall in!). However, let me give you a bit of background as to why I now use them and would recommend them. I've worn contact lenses since I was 18 (that's 16 years! - gosh, I feel old now!) after struggling with glasses since the age of 4. My first specs were those awful - but now very retro - pink plastic NHS frames that only had limited "give" when being fitted, so I developed hideous headaches at an early age because of the arms digging in behind my ears! Over the years, I've had just about every style and shape of frames going, but always found glasses uncomfortable. Part of my problem is that I have an odd-shaped nose that's very narrow at the top with a flat, strawberry shape towards the nostrils (thanks, Dad, for that inheritance!), so glasses have always slipped down and I've ended up peering over the top of them like an old granny whilst straining my eyes into the bargain. I still keep a pair of glasses as a stand-by, but only wear them occasionally. When I first got contact lenses, I started with the old-style "hard" lenses. After a short lesson from my optician about insertion, removal and cleaning I was ready to go. And - luckily for me - I had no problems at all. I've never been squeamish, so sticking my fingers in my eyes wasn't a problem. As the years progressed, so did the lenses available, and I switched to "soft" lenses, 3-month lenses, monthly lenses, and - eventually - to daily disposables. The one thing that I found frustrating with normal contacts was that I couldn't see first thing in the morning - I either had to feel around on the bedside table for my specs, or stagger into the bathroom, arms aloft and blind as a bat to pop my lenses in, which is no mean feat when you can barely see your own reflection in the mirror! When my optician first suggested trying lenses I could sleep in, I was slightly worried. I thought they might damage my eyes, but he explained to me that the overnight lenses allowed more oxygen through than daily ones. He gave me a pair of Air Optix Night & Day to try for a week. Since then, I've never looked back (excuse the pun!). The amazing feeling of waking up on the first morning and actually being able to see my alarm clock without getting my specs was fantastic. My partner - who, luckily for him, has excellent eyesight - really couldn't understand why I was so happy. He takes his vision for granted, so I suppose it's a difficult thing to explain. Although I still use the optician who first recommended these lenses, I now buy them online from Tesco as they're about a third of the price that he can offer. However, I do have a few tips for new and regular users of these lenses. Although they are advertised as 30 days and nights continuous wear, I've found giving your eyes a "break" from them for 1 night a week helps. I take my lenses out before I go to bed every Monday and put them in sterile saline solution in a case. I rinse them with fresh saline the next morning before putting them back in. I also use Optrex refreshing drops for lenses when needed, particularly if my eyes feel dry (I'm a furniture restorer and spend a lot of time surrounded by dust and other irritants, so I use these drops most nights). Other than that, I love them. I've found out recently why the lenses feel a bit strange when first used. Each of the lenses has an impressed code/makers mark moulded into the lens (have a look at a new one and you can just see it, but put your specs on first!). It takes a few hours for this mark to flatten out, so you will always get a slight irritation until it does - it feels like a small "tick" in your eye. Once this has gone, you're up and running.
CHRISTMAS CACTUS Firstly, a big "thank you" to everyone who's posted listings about Christmas Cactus - I've picked up loads of tips about caring for them from your advice. I've got a huge Christmas Cactus that my partner inherited from his parents. They'd had the plant for about 15 years before giving it to him as a house-warming present when he was 19 - he's 46 now, so it's at least 42 years old!!! The poor thing has been through the mill over the years - it's been moved from house to house, was left in a garage for 2 years, and then was thrown down 2 flights of stairs by my partner's ex wife!!! - however, it's survived and is starting to flower again this year with the most wonderful deep cerise coloured flowers. Measuring the full span of the leaves/growth, the plant is now about 3 foot by 3 foot across and has reached a height above the pot of nearly 2 feet - a gorgeous specimen. I took cuttings 2 years ago and all of them now live in various relatives houses and are happy and healthy. I've also seen the plants in their native habitat when I travelled in Brazil for 6 months about 7 years ago. To see these beautiful plants growing in the nooks and crannys of larger trees was really a sight to behold. I understand that they are naturally pollinated by Hummingbirds, but whenever I saw them they were being attacked by wild Toucans who seemed to love the flowers as food! Our plant now lives on top of an old chest directly infront of our south-facing bay window, although we have wooden slatted blinds that I keep tilted upwards to avoid direct sunlight. What I have found is that the plant prefers to be showered rather than watered direclty onto the soil. During the Spring and Summer months, it's lifted very carefully into the bathroom and onto the shower tray (a two-man job as the plant and pot are so heavy!) every 3 weeks or so. I then put the shower onto it's lowest pressure setting and at a tepid temperature and give the plant a quick "once-over" then allow it to drain for an hour or so before lifting it back to it's home. As we're in a very hard water region, I do have to wipe the leaves clean afterwards or I've found they get limescale marks on. To all owners of this wonderful plant, I wish you the best of luck with it - the time spent caring and nurturing it are fully rewarded when you see the amazing show of it in full bloom.