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How have I coveted a Kitchenaid Artisan Mixer? It is truly the Jimmy Choo of kitchenware. Every time I passed a shop selling these for over three years I would just stop and admire them. It is true that these mixers are simply beautiful pieces, if you were to make a choice on asthetics there isn't any other brand that can touch it. They come in a whole range of colours. I do like some of the newer ones like Boysenberry (Deep purple) and Cobalt Blue. There is a colour for everybody! This christmas has been all about our little girl having a wonderful time. On christmas day, after all everybody else's presents were open I had the biggest and most amazing shock of my life. My very own Kitchenaid Artisan, indeed the 90th Anniversary Edition in Candy Apple Red, the exact colour I liked the best of all ...... Speechless, is probably all I can say. Two weeks on I am still in awe of what is sitting on my worktop. *The history* So, incredible looks aside, a little about Kitchenaid Mixers. These have been around for nearly a century. They were designed by a guy called Herbert Johnson in 1919 who adapted his commercial mixer the Hobart Model H to make it suitable for the home. In 1936, Egmont Arens (designer and also the editor of Vanity Fair) joined forces with Johnson and redesigned the machine into three different models. Its selling success was sealed in 1955 when the mixer became available in a range of colours including Petal Pink and Sunny Yellow. It was this never before seen choice of colours that made the Kitchenaid Mixer so popular. The mixer remains in the same design as that from 1936 with virtually no change. *Made in America?* Amazingly in this day and age the mixers are still built / assembled by hand in the United States (although I would imagine the parts come from elsewhere). The Kitchenaid brand is now owned by Whirlpool though so the factory isn't in the same place anymore, it got moved. I saw that at the factory they have a Cobalt Blue K5A model on display that belonged to Julia Childs and that was signed 'Bon Appetit' by her; how cool! I do hope that they carry on with the factory there, it seems to be a rarer and rare thing these days to see things made in the US or here for that matter. From my random readings on the web over the last few years it seems that the general opinion is that these mixers aren't built to last in the way they used to be. I can't really comment as I have only had mine two weeks but it is working like a dream so far. There is also a number of reviews that mention that the gears and gearbox are now made from plastic, I don't know about that personally as I haven't looked inside it! *What does it come with and what capacity ingredients does it take?* The Artisan mixer comes with a 4.8 litre stainless steel bowl. It seems we were lucky as ours also came with a free glass bowl of the same capacity (RRP £61). It also comes with a flat beater, a wire whisk, a dough hook and a pouring shield. These are the ones most amateur home cooks would mainly use. There is a huge range of other accessories including a ice cream maker, pasta shape press, grain mill and even a sausage stuffer. However, it must be noted that these attachments are expensive and a number of them are quite hard to find in the UK. Hmmmm, guess it might be worth saving for a trip to the states! *Guarantee* The mixer is guaranteed for parts and labour for five years. You register for the warranty online and when you do so they send you a hardback copy of Kitchenaid the Cookbook in hardback. This is a lovely book in itself and I like how it tells a bit about the history of Kitchenaid. The downside though is I think they are trying to encourage you to buy more attachments as many of the recipies need some of the other attachments. From reading many of the individual reviews on Amazon for some of the attachments I think I would probably stick to food processors for some of those things in many cases because some have quite poor reviews (although some are very positive). *Instructions and ease of use* The machine itself is very simple to use. The head is just on a lever so you push the lever and lift the head up. Similarly the attachments it comes with just click in and out and how to do this is clearly explained in the instructions. I do think it could offer more on the subject of mixing speeds and so on though. I found it quite tricky to work out exactly how best to try and make bread in it for example, without over kneading the dough. However, there is a general guide to the ten speeds that the machine has and what you should use them for. The electric lead is a decent length and easily reaches where I plug it in. *Value for Money* I am going to drop one star off my review for value for money. I think you definitely pay for the looks and the brand with this mixer. For me, I am happy with this as I am just a home cook and it meets everything I could need or expect. However, I don't think it would be right to rave about this without being honest that you can get machines that do just a good a job or even better for less. Still, i wouldn't change it for the world, I love it! *How have things turned out to date?* I have used the mixer four times so far, wish it was more but had a backlog of cakes / bread etc from christmas. I have made bead twice, one wholemeal and one white. I didn't quite get this right (touch dense) but it was still very yummy. From quite a bit of research I eventually worked out that you don't knead the bread for very long at all maybe three minutes or so, so I think I probably over kneaded a bit. Just remember to get your water temp right for the yeast and that it is mixer setting 2 for the kneading. I only made a 500g loaf, the book suggests it can cope with a 1kg loaf but I suspect it might struggle a little. I reckon above that would be a no go. I think if you want to make 3 small loaves at a go regularly you will need something a bit more heavy duty. I also made the Hummingbird Buttermilk Pound Cake, it was so fast using the mixer, in the oven in no time and very very nice! *ummmm pizza* The triumph was the pizza dough, which just blew us away. I have never made anything so amazing, ever! This is from Dan Stevens the River Cottage Handbook 3 - Bread. Thanks Dan, you are a genius! This can be found in full on the Guardian's website put 'river cottage pizza' in google and look for the Guardian Article. - 250g strong white bread flour
- 250g plain white flour
- 5g powdered dried yeast
- 10g salt
- 325ml warm water
- About 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 handful coarse flour (rye, semolina or polenta), for dusting Put the flour, yeast, salt and water in the mixer bowl. Using the dough hook mix for a few seconds then add the oil. Knead on mixer speed 2 (it says ten min but I was happy with it after about 4-5 min). Then I rolled it into a ball and left it to prove for a couple of hours in a lightly oiled bowl in a plastic bag (warm place). I think you can use the dough straight after knocking it back but I knocked it back and then let it prove a second time in the fridge for about 6 hours as didn't need it until the evening. Make sure you roll it super thin and cook in an oven on max heat until the cheese is golden and bubbling. I used the batch cook tomato sauce recipe from BBC Good Food for the tomato base.
My three year old picked this herself at the library this week and we have read it each night. It is just the right length for us to get through before it is time to say night night. The pictures are lovely, a double page is offered to each of the twelve months of the year. The pictures are meant to match to what the months are expected to be like (in our part of the world at least!); i.e. in April it is raining. I think it probably could have done with a bit more emphasis on the seasons though as it doesn't show which months relate to which season. This is published by Barefoot Books, they have both a UK and US bookstore but as usual prices look better on Amazon. It is meant to be a hide and seek book. There are twelve words at the bottom of the page and you can go through and find everything. For my little girl, we haven't tried to go through and read the words (she is a bit young for that yet). Instead I read the sentences things like 'Jump into January, come along with me. The ice glazes the local pond what can you see?' Then she tells me with some prompting what it is she can see. It is proving to be great for learning new words, for example in the February picture some people are skiing and some people are sledging down a hill. Total she had remembered both those words / actions, which are new to her. She also now knows what hopscotch looks like; LOL, I think I'll have to get the chalk out and draw her one on the flags in the back garden now! At the end of the book there are some additional pages that seem to be there to make the book more adaptable to older children. There are a number of facts about the months of the year, for example explaining where all the names originate from. We didn't look at these bits but from glancing through it is quite interesting. However, I can't see a child much older than 4 or 5 getting too much from this book. I don't think I would have necessarily chosen this for my daughter if I had been picking myself. However, I am glad she picked it because it has been fun to read. I think we will be going through it a few more times before we take it back to the library.
My little girl is now 18 months old and this series of books still hold their charm. The 'that's not me...' series comprises of 31 different books, see: http://www.usborne.com/catalogue/catalogue.aspx?cat=1&area=B&subcat=bbtnm for all of them. 'That's not my puppy' is a board book with a red colour theme. On each page is a different puppy along with a reason why that puppy is not your child's puppy. So on the front page it reads, 'That's not my puppy it's coat is too hairy.' On the next page, 'That's not my puppy it's tail is too fluffy' and so on. On the last page it reads, That's my puppy his nose is so squashy.' For each puppy a part of the puppy is made in a different material for your child to feel that corresponds to the words used. So on the first page the puppy's coat is actually hairy! These books are for birth onwards. I found it excellent in that the text is simple and repetitive and has a nice rhythm when spoken aloud, which is perfect for very young children. I think it is appealing to a young child because of the bright colours and touchy feels parts.
Last night I hit the flicks for the first time in ages. I'd heard a discussion about Julie and Julia by Nora Ephron on Radio Four and it struck me as something I'd like to see; plus Meryl Streep plays Julia Child and she is a particular favourite of mine. I had never heard of Julia Child before, it seems she was a government clerk who went with her husband when the USA government posted him to Paris. The rest as they say was history, over time she became a household name bring French cooking to the average American kitchen. The film follows Julie Powell, a young unrealised writer who was working for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (set up to distribute nearly $10 billion in federal funds aimed at rebuilding downtown Manhattan following 9/11). In August 2002 she started the Julie/Julia Project, a blog to document her attempt to cook all 524 Recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child in 365 days. The film splits the story between Julia and her attempts to cook all the recipes in her apartment in a suburb of New York and Julia Child's years developing her cooking and the book in Paris. I liked this style because it emphasised the 'virtual' connection between the two women even contrasting Julia's hurt at getting a rejection from a publisher to Julie's hurt that the elderly Julia Child did not like her blog. Meryl Streep plays Child wonderfully, I liked that Stanley Tucci had been cast as her husband Paul because they went together brilliantly, Their easy on screen charisma worked to capture the essence of two people who were deeply in love. A couple of emotions are touched upon without words: a moment when Paul Child and the new husband of Julia's equally tall sister (Julia was 6'2) shake hands; and the moment when Julia opens a letter sending news from her sister of her pregnancy. I found both poignant and moving. I loved the depiction of Paris in 1948. It somehow evokes the feeling of something I haven't ever really known living in an urban area. The pleasure that can be realised from the simple things in life, which most of us can access if we so choose. It had me thinking where I could find a farmer's market and that I simply have to cook this legendary Boeuf Bourguignon! The original publisher Knopf have put it on their website so maybe that is a plan for the weekend. I prefered Julia to Julie though. Amy Adams came across as sweet but there was so much play on her being convinced that Julia was there with her in the kitchen spurring her on. That one reservation loses the film a star in my opinion!
*Synopsis* When Lou Winter picks up a dog-eared magazine in the dentist's waiting room and spots an article about clearing clutter, she little realises how it will change her life. What begins as an earnest spring clean soon spirals out of control. Before long Lou is hiring skips in which to dump the copious amounts of junk she never knew she had. Lou's loved ones grow disgruntled. Why is clearing out cupboards suddenly more important than making his breakfast, her husband Phil wonders? The truth is, the more rubbish Lou lets go of, the more light and air can get to those painful, closed-up places at the centre of her heart: the love waiting for a baby she would never have, the empty space her best friend Deb once occupied, and the gaping wound left by her husband's affair. Even lovely Tom Broom, the man who delivers Lou's skips, starts to grow concerned about his sweetest customer. But Lou is a woman on a mission, and not even she knows where it will end ... (Product Description - Pocket Books) *My Opinion* When I was pregnant last summer I got a bit obsessed with de-cluttering. I'm not entirely sure why as I have never been particularly organised. I loved the feeling that came with it. When I stumbled across this book and read the bit about 'clearing clutter' in the product description I knew I wanted to read it. I am so glad I did! The main character Lou Winter is the ultimate downtrodden, under the thumb middle aged wife who's one goal in life is to make her husband's life as perfect as possible; the husband being, Mr Phil Winter archetypal car salesman and philanderer. The doormat mentality also stretched to her relationship with her mother and her friend Michelle. At first impressions I didn't think I'd like the heroine this time, as I can't help but find the whole situation a bit martyr like (Note: I did change my mind!). I liked the concept of linking the clearing of clutter to the clearing of the mind. Material possessions often equate to emotional baggage and this is weaved cleverly into the book. As Lou clears the clutter she starts to deal with all the issues that led her down the path she has travelled and step by step she starts to find the person she once was again. In parts I found this poignant and touching and surprisingly real. An interesting sub-plot is set within Lou's workplace, an accountancy firm. There is: Lou's funky, fun loving friend Karen; hard working, close to retirement Stan; fresh faced Zoe; and tyrant Nicola aka 'Jaws' the line manager who aims to terrorise everybody. The author clearly has an interest in how bullying within the workplace develops and of the damage it wrecks. I found this part fascinating as it covers the psychology of the bully within the fiction. In the early part of the book, we meet Michelle, Lou's friend whose life is 'car crash tv,' generally with Lou picking up the pieces. This relationship is one of the one sided ones I think most of us have experienced were one person takes and takes and is willing to give nothing is return. In addition, the book explores Lou's difficult relationship with a domineering mother who prefers Lou's sister Victorianna. Lou's old best friend Deb comes back into her life whilst she is clearing her clutter and her baggage. I really liked Deb and the relationship she has with Lou. Finally there is the obligatory dash of romance courtesy of Mr Tom Broom, the rugged skip man, who is everything the husband isn't! *Would I recommend* Yes! This is one of the best books of its kind I have ever read and I have read a few! Milly Johnson is a fairly new author and this is her third book. I liked this enough to purchase her first two books, 'the Yorkshire Pudding Club' and 'the Birds and the Bees'. This one is definitely worth a go. *Availability* I saw this book when I was buying another book on Amazon as it came up as an associated item at £4.48 (with free super saver delivery if you spend over £5). I had a balance on my Green Metropolis account so I bought it there for £3.75 delivered. *Publication details* Title: A Spring Affair Author: Milly Johnson Book Type: Fiction / Chick Lit Publisher: Pocket Books Publication date: 6th April 2009 ISBN: 1847392822 RRP: £6.99
*Publication details* Title: Rumour Has It Author: Jill Mansell Book Type: Fiction / Chick Lit Publisher: Headline Review Publication date: 5th February 2009 ISBN: 0755328175 RRP: £12.99 Note: Now also available in paperback *Synopsis* When newly single Tilly Cole impulsively quits her London job for a fresh start in the small town of Roxborough she finds she's arrived in a hotbed of gossip, intrigue and rampant rivalry for the most desirable men. Tilly has no intention of joining in - she's just happy with her new Girl Friday job. Then she meets Jack Lucas. Jack is irresistible... and he's got his eye on Tilly. But there are shocking rumours about his wicked reputation. Tilly doesn't want to be just another notch on anyone's bedpost. But is she being mature and sensible - or is she running away from the love of her life? (Product Description - Headline) *My Opinion* I picked this book up in a somewhat biased fashion. After reading quite a lot of work by Jill Mansell albeit a few years ago I had a clear idea of what to expect from her latest novel. The author writes classic chick lit. The kind of stuff that although is somewhat formulaic delivers a quick hit of light hearted, easy reading entertainment that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. This book took me on a journey into the world of the heroine Tilly and the new people that come into her life, when she quits her job in London and moves to Roxborough; the home of her best friend Erin. Tilly is the typical girl next -door breed of heroine, created for you to identify with. She isn't perfect or overly glamorous and is definitely liable to the inevitable personal disaster. Tilly visits her friend in Roxborough after a not entirely unwelcome catastrophe occurs in her personal life. After visiting her friend and spending a night taunting the landlord of the local village pub about the headlines in the local paper she sees an ad offering a 'fun job, country house'. Intrigued, she rings with no answer and forgets about it. The next day, facing a forty minute wait for a delayed train back to London she tries again and ....... Cue and entry for Max, early 40s, good looking interior designer and his flame haired, sparky, 13 year old daughter Lou. Ex-wife Kaye is in Hollywood having found a role in a glamorous soap after having her heart broke by Max who had finally confessed to being gay. I loved the character of Lou, quick witted and utterly loyal to and proud of her father she literally bursts of the page bringing to life the effervescent energy of a teenager. Tilly takes the job of 'Girl Friday' offered by Max and Lou and moves to Roxborough. It is then she comes across Jack; Max's best friend and close business colleague. Commitment phobe Tilly is stunned by the reaction she has to him. Problem is he seems to be the 'catch of the village' with hordes of women chasing after him, not Till's cup of tea at all! I wanted to dislike Jack as he seems too handsome, too successful; basically just too perfect full stop. In the end, well I guess he grows on you. The question hanging over the main story line is, will they get it together? In typical Mansell form, Tilly and Jack are not the only thread in the book. She cleverly weaves sub story lines into the book, which are actually quite captivating. I was quite taken with some of the other characters. There is Stella, brassy and confident, super bitch from hell, who is convinced her husband, Fergus has been stolen from her. Saintly best friend Erin, who runs a second hand designer clothes shop and hates confrontation. There are even a couple of beloved animals: Max and Lou's pooch Betty and Stella's posh cat Bing. All in all, you are carried along at a rate of knots. Despite the inevitable predictability of some aspects of the novel there are some twists and turns with romance and tragedy intertwined deftly. I flew through the second half of this book, eagerly looking for the happy ending, which invariably appears and gives you a warm glow of satisfaction that everything will turn out alright in the end. *Would I recommend* Totally, I love this stuff. There are times for literature with more serious content and I am not in that place right now; too put it simply I have too little time or energy to go for anything that requires too much effort at the moment! This book simply ticks the boxes, likeable characters, a few twists and a good dash of romance; blissful! Loses a star for being just a bit too predictable from the start. *Availability* I picked the paperback version up in Asda for the usual £3.86 price tag. The paperback is available at Amazon for the same price; although you need to spend over £5 for free super saver delivery. This is a popular author so you are likely to be able to pick it up even cheaper over the coming weeks on sites such as Ebay or Green Metropolis.
*Publication details* Title: The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook Author: Tarek Malouf Book Type: Non Fiction / Food and Drink / Baking Publisher: Ryland, Peters & Small Ltd Publication date: 15 April 2009 ISBN: 1845978307 RRP: £16.99 *Synopsis* The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook is based on the sweet treats sold at the Hummingbird Bakeries in London. Sixty different recipes are shared from cupcakes to key lime pie. All are based on the American style of baking. The product description claims, 'Hummingbird recipes not only taste great but also look spectacular - without resorting to fussy recipes and hours in the kitchen'. *My Opinion* During June I was hosting a family barbeque for two birthdays. I had seen pictures where instead of baking a typical birthday cake people had instead made and frosted a couple of dozen cupcakes and arranged them on a three tier cake stand. Some of the pictures I had seen looked really great and I thought it would be nice to avoid cutting cake up and having loads of cutlery and plates to sort out. I hadn't made any type of 'fairy cake' since I was a kid so I set about looking for a book that would give me some guidance. I was browsing through the Book People site, which I use quite a lot and spotted the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. The cover looked really pretty and the product description suggested this book might be what I was looking for. In the interest of research I put Hummingbird Bakery into Google and found the Hummingbird Bakery website. Viewing the website had me sold within a few seconds. It was beautifully presented and the cakes looked sensational. I thought at that point if the book is delivered in a similar way it would be fabulous. So I took a chance and ordered two copies, one for me and one for a friend's birthday present. When my parcel arrived I was blown away with the appearance of the book. The photography is divine. The book is a smaller hardback complete with dust cover in base colours of chocolate brown and pink. Inside the front cover the first two sides are just a sea of chocolate hundreds and thousands. Inside the back cover is a spread of chocolate swirls. The book starts with a foreword by the author, which describes his introduction to American baking in New York and his realisation there was a gap in the market for this type of bakery in the UK. Moving into the main body of the book, each of the 60 recipes is laid out on a two-page spread. There is a photograph of the final product on one page and the recipe laid out on the other. The book contains: frosting; cupcakes; pies; brownies and bars; muffins; and cookies. It ends with the usual index and acknowledgments. As I had bought this book with a purpose in mind I set about having a trial run and selected the chocolate cupcakes. The book states the chocolate cupcakes are based on a devil's food cake. The ingredients and method were clearly different to chocolate cake mixtures I have used from British cookbooks; definitely not for those on a diet due to the high quantity of sugar used. The instructions were easy to follow but didn't give any explanation as to how to cook with a fan oven, so I had to guess. I used fairy cake cases; from looking at the pictures I am guessing you are meant to actually use American cupcake cases, which are bigger. However, from the quantities listed it only just filled the 12 fairy cake holders so I don't think it would really make twelve. On cooling I swiftly found the quantities suggested for frosting '12' cupcakes were way out. I think you could probably have iced 40 with the amounts given! Despite the issues with quantities, once iced they looked and tasted divine; just not so good for the waistline! I decided for the birthday barbecue to make the vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting in pink and cream. I doubled the quantities to make 24 and made two batches of frosting in two colours (made the pink by adding a few drops of food colouring). I then used an icing bag with a large star nozzle to decorate the cakes, which were finished off with the odd milky bar button. I had bought an inexpensive white card cake stand that I decorated with pink edible glitter. The feedback off my family and friends about the cakes made me feel great, especially as I am by no means an experienced baker. I think the fact that 24 cakes got ate by 18 attendees well before the end spoke for itself. My mum liked them so much she asked me to make a batch in blue and cream for a residents birthday party at the care home where she works and they loved them too. I haven't had much time too bake anything else this month but am trying to decide what to try next. However, I think the Brooklyn Blackout Cake is likely to win! Tonight I have had a look through the reviews on Amazon and people's thoughts on this book are very mixed. Some people adore it and others hate it. It seems the biggest bug bear is the issues with quantities. It strikes me that they should have spent more time working out how to make these recipes on a domestic as opposed to industrial scale. *Would I recommend* Yes I would, especially if you can pick up a copy at a good price. The pictures are delectable and the results totally scrumptious! However, you need to be prepared to use common sense if the quantities look a bit odd; so probably better for the cook that doesn't mind being experimental at times. I'm giving it four stars as I actually love it but I do think the 'quantity' issue loses it a star. *Availability* I was lucky enough to spot this at the Book People, where it was available for only £4.99. It is currently out of stock but there is a message saying it will be back on the 3rd August 2009; delivery is free if you spend over £25. Amazon has it for £8.49 with free super saver delivery.
So, I love chocolate; well, who doesn't? I also love baking, so it goes to figure that I might just need to make chocolate cakes. Darn, there goes the diet again! I already have a bit of a crush on Green and Blacks chocolate so I was pretty chuffed to discover they have brought out a new baking range, which includes cocoa powder. In addition there is also a recipe book (which I need to get my hands on!) and a 'baking' chocolate, 72% cocoa solids. The cocoa powder is organic and is importantly fair trade certified. This is actually 100% cocoa powder; no unrequited extras here. http://greenandblacks.com/uk/what-we-make/home-use/cocoa-powder.html You can use it to bake with or it makes good hot chocolate made with milk (and for me a decent spoon of sugar and some fluffy marshmallows on top!). The cocoa powder comes in one size, 125g. It comes in a classy round black container and is foil sealed for freshness. I loved the smell when I cracked the foil, heavenly! When I used this for baking I sifted it as it does clump a little and can go poof and cover you when you start to whisk it with your other ingredients. I made the mistake of tasting my batter, lets just say I was back to being a kid wanting to lick the bowl out! The results of my labours in the kitchen were a great success and a huge hit with my family. They did not stick around for long. I have made the same recipe with an own brand cocoa and whilst nice it didn't have that rich, luxury taste of the real thing. ***Baking Suggestion*** I made chocolate fairy cakes (cup cakes) today and they were mighty divine, so here is the recipe in case you are looking for some choccie inspiration: +Chocolate Cupcakes+ (as from Hummingbird Bakery - to be reviewed soon) *Preheat oven to 1700C (Gas mark 3) and put paper cases in a 12 hole baking tray *Put plain flour (100g), cocoa powder (20g), caster sugar (140g), baking powder (1.5 tsp) and salt (pinch) in a bowl and beat on a slow setting until combined. *Whisk whole milk (120ml), an egg and vanilla extract (0.25 tsp) together in a jug and then pour half into the flour mixture. Mix until smooth, then slowly add the remaining milk mixture until smooth again. *Spoon into the paper cases and cook for 20-25 minutes *Allow to cool and then decorate (try butter icing with touch more of the cocoa!) ***Where to buy*** I bought mine from Tesco for £1.59. From checking 'My Supermarket' it is available at Sainsburys and Ocado at the same price but isn't sold by Asda. ***In conclusion* Don't take my word for it; go and get some and give it a go. You won't look back I promise!
*Publication details * Title: Complete First Year Planner Author: Annabel Karmel Book Type: Non Fiction / Parenting Publisher: Ebury Press, Random House (www.randomhouse.co.uk) Publication date: 1st May 2003 ISBN: 0091888034 RRP: £16.99 *Synopsis* Annbel Karmel joins forces with Great Ormond Street Hospital to provide a comprehensive planner for your baby's first year. This contains guidance on how to enjoy a healthy and stress-free pregnancy and first year with over 80 recipes. *My Opinion* Like most new mums having a first baby is a daunting prospect. I have never had much to do with the day to day business of looking after a newborn so soon after my daughter was born I set out to find a couple of books for advice and guidance. This one caught my eye when browsing at Waterstones and so I purchased it there and then as I had a gift certificate that was burning a hole in my pocket! I had heard of Annabel Karmel before as a friend had told me how her original book, 'The New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner' provided excellent feeding advice. For each copy sold a royalty is paid to Great Ormond Street providing a nice added incentive to purchase this particular book. I am so glad that I purchased this book, as it has been invaluable. It is one of those rare, perfect reference books that you can keep to dip in and out of whenever you have a question. The book has an easy to follow format dividing the book into the following sections: pregnancy, 0-3 months, 4-6 months, 7-9 months and 10-12 months. Although to late for me (due to me purchasing after my daughter was born) the pregnancy section is specifically about diet and nutrition. I really wish I had seen this book sooner as this section is great. It tells you everything you could wish to know including information on 'pregnancy superfoods' and a number of recipes to try out. The only addition to the diet advice is two pages on planning what items you need for hospital. Each of the baby age sections is split into the following sub-sections: practicalities, sleeping, crying, developing and feeding. In the 0-3 month sub-section all the basics are covered including: handling your baby; what happens when you go home; breast and bottle feeding; nappies (disposable vs washable); bathing; how you may be feeling etc. It even includes a part covering baby massage, I followed this and my daughter loved it! In the development sections simple charts outline developmental milestones at key ages. Whilst every baby develops differently this helps reassure you that everything is happening at approximately the right times. I am just starting to wean my baby. I had concerns about doing this as didn't really know where to begin. The 4-6 month feeding sub-section is amazing and I have it to hand every day. It has taken away all my concerns about starting solids as it tells you everything you need to know. The most helpful things being: a meal planner for the first four weeks and a number of recipes for purees. The best thing about this book is it is written in an unbiased, factual way that avoids being rigid about ideas, giving you both pros and cons. A friend gave me a copy of a Gina Ford book and I hated the language. I don't like to be patronised even if I am new to something. I also like to know what all the options are so I can make my own informed decisions. This book arms you with that evidence and leaves you free to run with what you choose. It is very accessible and is written in plain English. The format is clear and concise; laid out in a way, which makes it easy to find what you are looking for (with colour coded sections and markers at the top of each page). *Would I recommend* Yes I would; this is a total gem of a book and in my opinion an essential. It is: well written, easy to follow and full of sound advice. If you are looking for a comprehensive parenting guide for the first year of your child's life then this is the one for you. *Availability* It can be purchased full price from the publisher Random House. The cheapest I can find it online is £11.04 delivered from either Amazon or Waterstones.
*Publication details * Title: Chosen by a horse Author: Susan Richards Book Type: Biography Publisher: Constable & Robinson (www.constablerobinson.com ) Publication date: 24th April 2008 ISBN: 978-1-84529-716-9 RRP: £7.99 *Synopsis* Susan Richards agrees to provide a home to an abused and neglected mare named Lay me Down that has been rescued by a local animal welfare centre. Susan has had a traumatic life. She lost her mother at a young age and was raised by uncaring relatives; she married unhappily and divorced; and she'd been an alcoholic. At this point in her life, aged 43, she lives alone on a farm with three horses to whom she is devoted: pushy, opinionated Georgia (typical Morgan), boyish Tempo and hopelessly romantic Hotshot. Lay Me Down, walks into Susan's horse trailer of her own volition, hence the title of the book. This relationship alters her perspective on life and teaches her much about finding the strength to live with her past. *My Opinion* As you might have gathered from previous reviews I love horses and as such am always drawn to books with an equestrian theme. On searching Amazon for books of this kind I came across Chosen by a horse by Susan Richards. Four people had given the book five star and had described it as: "beautifully written and heartfelt" and "like reading a diary that you had no right to be reading." The books headline is "How a broken horse fixed a broken heart". Reading these initial thoughts encouraged me to source myself a copy as it sounded right up my street. What I hadn't realised when I purchased the book is that it is actually a memoir of the author's life; providing an insight into her feelings. Ironically I probably wouldn't have bought the book at all if I had been aware of this, as I am not usually a fan of biographies, perhaps with the exception of Boy and Going Solo; you have to adore Roald Dahl, don't you? Never one to leave a book untouched I steeled myself to keep an open mind and started to read. It soon became clear to me the author was using the act of writing to directly reflect and analyse her own life experiences to better understand herself and to learn lessons for her future. As a qualified social worker she seemed to be applying the principles of her training to herself as a case study. I can't quite decide whether I liked this style or not, in fact, I think I find myself almost bereft of an opinion. Weird for me, as normally I either love things or hate them! In addition, from looking on the author's website (www.susan-richards.com ) and reading the biography on there the dates don't match. Therefore, this isn't an autobiography in the truest sense of the word; it seems to be based on fact but tweaked, probably with the aim of providing a better read for the audience. In fact, knowing the authors background I can't help but find the book a trifle contrived. Almost as if she is saying to her audience, if this has happened to you I know how you feel but you need to learn and move on. That's great as a concept (and I am sure extremely inspirational to some readers) but how true to her personal life the story is only she herself will know. One thing that I don't like is how very American both the writing and the way of thinking is. I'll not condemn her for that as it is fitting for her intended audience and it really is a preference specific to me. In particular, it smacks of the specific, 'get professional help' for all ills, although in this case she is being both patient and therapist all rolled into one. One thing I will give her credit for is an innate understanding of what makes the horse lover tick. Her descriptions of the horses' personalities and their antics also have a real ring of truth. One lovely paragraph describes a foal's first encounter with a wheelbarrow and resulting reaction, 'who could blame her for gloating? She had just killed her first wheelbarrow.' Probably the unique feature of this book and its selling point is how the building of a bond with an animal (in this case a horse) can have special healing qualities. This is fundamental to the book and to me was its saving grace. I can't lay claim to a traumatic life, only the general ups and downs of a rather normal life. However, my horses have always been a source of peace when facing any kind of turmoil. Somehow when you are stressed and upset they provide a kind of comfort no human could. *Would I recommend?* To be honest I am not sure. I know this isn't helpful but is probably the best I can do as I feel as if I am sat on the fence. The book does detail loss and its impact on those left behind. I do think this is portrayed well and it may therefore be useful for those who are bereaved. I wouldn't class this as a must read nor as a read to steer clear of. I can't help but think how you find the book will be linked to your own life experiences. So I will leave it for you to decide .... *Availability* I got my copy from www.greenmetropolis.com for £3.75 (great site, well worth checking out!). It is currently available on Amazon for £5.59.
This Christmas my friend gave my little girl the Fisher Price Rainforest Piano. It is for babies aged for three months onwards (NB: The online product information says it is for babies aged 12 months but the box itself says 3 months - I can't imagine it being of much interest to babies of 12 months to be honest). It is from the popular Rainforest range and as such is bright and multi-coloured featuring a number of animals (giraffe, monkey etc). The piano has five keys, which are operated by baby rolling wheels that in turn strike the keys to play a note . I found this toy aesthetically pleasing and liked the concept. Georgie at just three months is too young to actually hold anything to strike the keys with so the wheels are an innovative way to allow her to have a chance to try and make music. I also thought it would be a practical way of improving her motor skills. When we first gave it to her she stared at it and seemed interested. After a few days of showing her how it worked and moving her hands she started reaching for the wheels and on and off can now get them to spin if a lucky swipe hits the mark. The wheels turn very easily, however if they are turned slowly they don't gain enough momentum to make a sound. This was a problem for the baby as when she was spinning them herself she could only manage a gentle roll so often no sound came out. As she likes her actions to have a consequence this has dampened her interest in the toy! However, as she gets bigger I can see this becoming a useful addition to 'tummy time' as when she starts to crawl she will be able to use it with it placed on the floor (at this point it will be to heavy for her to move herself). Another problem was the weight of the piano. It is quite bulky and heavy making it difficult for little hands. I have had to hold it for her and it even makes my arm tired. It can't be placed on her knee when she is propped up either again due to the weight. In addition, there are a couple of quite sharp edges. If you had a couple of small children left alone with this toy that were at the age of liking to bang things together I could imagine an accident taking place! Therefore, this is probably one for supervised play. Although the wheels are great for young babies, a useful addition would have been some sticks for when baby gets bigger; they could then also use it by striking the keys. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on was that a note seemed odd when they were played in turn. My brother who is more musically inclined seems to think they have included a B instead of a B flat, which has upset the scale. This limits the tunes that can be played on it. In conclusion, this toy is ok but nothing special. It is a good concept but there are a number of practical drawbacks that hinder its functionality. *Product Availability* The Rainforest Piano can be purchased from Amazon for £14.98 including delivery.
Last June, I was 5 months pregnant. After some contemplation I decided I did indeed want a moses basket so baby would have somewhere to sleep downstairs during the day. I knew I was having a little girl so initially bought one in pink from ToysRus of their website. On arrival I was disappointed as it looked a bit cheap and the pink clashed horribly with my very neutral living room. So that basket went back. I went on the hunt for a basket in neutral colours for which you could purchase a rocking stand. I came across the Millie & Boris basket on the Mamas and Papas website and it really looked the part. At £89 it was on the upper end of our budget but it was on offer at the time so we received the rocking stand free (RRP £32). The basket co-ordinates perfectly with the Millie & Boris Nursery Interior Collection; not an issue for us as we used it downstairs. However, we did buy the Millie & Boris Evolve Changing station (RRP £95) as again the colour scheme worked well with our downstairs interior. I ordered the basket through the website. I found the site easy to navigate and had no problems ordering. Standard delivery costs £4.95 and ensures delivery within 7 working days. This seems quite steep to me as many websites offer free delivery offers or give you free delivery if you spend over a certain amount. This would put me off unless I was making a big enough order for it to be worthwhile (which I was in this instance). If you want delivery very quickly it is substantially more. My order was delivered promptly. I didn't actually do more than take a quick glance at the basket on arrival and all seemed in order. It was then packed away until the baby was born. When we used it for the first time in the middle of last October we soon realized that the basket was skew-wiff as if there was a twist in the basket weave. Over the following fortnight this became more pronounced and I decided to phone and complain. I used the customer service line available on the website and was put through to an advisor. I was extremely happy with the service provided. The lady asked what the problem was, looked up my order from her end and arranged for a new basket to be delivered and the old one collected. She said the old one would be taken so they could take up the complaint with the supplier as part of their quality control process. The new basket was delivered as promised (bare basket no bedding etc) and was in perfect order. The new basket is sturdy and good quality. It is made of maize and is traditionally woven. It comes with a mattress, adjustable hood and a Millie & Boris basket coverlet. The stand and sheets for the mattress need to be purchased separately. I selected the rocking stand and I totally love this, it rocks gently when pushed and is really helpful in getting baby off to sleep! I would recommend this product if you can get it at the right price. However, there are similar looks available at a better price. I would if buying again, probably purchase, the 'My Toys' Clair de Lune Moses Basket in white, which is only £34.95 from Bambino Direct. *Product Specification* - Cover: Velour 80% polyester, 20% cotton. - Linen: 20% linen, 80% cotton. Filling: 100% polyester. - Size: 85cm x 45cm approx. - Complies with BS EN 1466 British safety standards. *Price and availability* This is available from Mama & Papa stores and on the website www.mamasandpapas.co.uk . As of today (12th Jan 2009) it is on sale at £71.20 (RRP £89). It is a popular design so it is worth checking out www.ebay.co.uk for a second hand bargain (just be sure to buy a new mattress).
One rather chilly Sunday morning last April, I dragged myself out of bed and went to a local car boot sale. A seller had a huge box of home magazines. I'd just started having a rifle and she said you can have the lot for £2. At the time we were about to embark on a complete house refurbishment and I bought them, hoping for some inspiration. I do have a tendency to cut things out and make brainstorming sheets so a big pile of back issues seemed like perfect fodder. This is when I discovered Ideal Home, which really struck a chord. To be honest I think I am probably a typical example of the target audience. The magazine is currently split into the following sections: *Wish list* - 'Great shopping for every room' - This showcases decorative themes with individual pictures of specific items and a list of where you can buy them and how much they cost. What I like about this section is that the pieces shown are affordable with a mix of suppliers that are easily available (mixes well known names such as Ikea, John Lewis, House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer with lesser known designers). Each issue picks up different schemes. February's includes a fresh green and chocolate living room. In addition there was a feature on the ten best websites for storage and a feature on bargain buy mirrors. I find this section really useful for ideas to update current rooms without completely re-doing them. *Dream makeovers* - 'Fabulous homes and brilliant buys' - This shows real homes that have had extensive transformations. These tend to be rather sensational and look amazing. However the minimum spend to achieve this tends to be around the £60k mark and many are significantly higher. I find these interesting but also off putting as is way beyond what we could afford and I think probably more than what a lot of other readers could manage too. At the end of each 'makeover' there is a page devoted to getting the look shown, which is again useful. What I do like is that they are homes that have been created to be loved and lived in. They also show individual tastes and conceptual themes that you can use to fire your imagination. *Beautiful rooms - 'Inspirational decorating' - This section is dedicated to quick ideas for reinventing your home. A good article in this month's issue is on storage solutions, perfect for de-cluttering in a bid to meet those new year resolutions! This is split into 12 room schemes with different storage ideas for different rooms and colour schemes. Personally I love a wide range of different looks to ponder over as it often only takes a glance at something that is 'just so me' to spark a design idea. *Big Ideas* - 'Kitchens, bathrooms and projects' - This again follows real people with a focus on kitchens and bathrooms although other things are covered (for example, having an extra room in your garden). Each project is marked with the budget used to achieve the final result. Mixed in are a few snapshot articles that focus on achieving a particular objective, such as, 'create the perfect wet room' or 'choose the right kitchen lighting'. *Simple Solutions* -- This offers quick tips and short cuts to achieve a smooth running home. This has some genuinely helpful advice in it. Each issue also includes a number of recipes. I loved the Christmas issue, which had a full menu plan for Christmas dinner; I used this and it was well received by my guests. The current issue has a number of chocolate desserts that look to die for; can't wait to try them! In addition, there is a question and answer section where you can write in and have your problem solved by the Ideal Home team. *Adverts*- Like all magazines there are adverts throughout and a directory at the back. I don't find these too intrusive to the reading experience as they are relevant and there is plenty 'proper' material to balance the content. *Offers and Competitions* - There are some great competitions in Ideal Home. In the current issue there are over £77k of prizes up for grabs including 'win £25k for your own dream makeover*. Although it is true that this wouldn't really buy you one of the dream makeovers often published, it would probably take you a long way towards it. There are also reader offers available in each issue. I keep entering, maybe one day I might win ... dreams ..... *Price and availability* - The cover price of Ideal Home is £3.20 and it is widely available at newsagents and supermarkets. It is also available via subscription. I subscribed late in December 2008 with an offer of £20.50 via direct debit (50% off retail) plus a free gift of a limited edition pomegranate Crabtree and Evelyn hand wash and hand lotion set (RRP £25). I chose to subscribe over the phone as wished to confirm that I would definitely get the free gift as it was marked as 'limited numbers'. It was very easy to subscribe, the advisors were pleasant and helpful and all I needed was my bank details for the direct debit. A word of caution, it is an 0845 number so subscribing via this method will cost you the national rate. However, you can also sign up via post using a slip from the magazine or on the website. I have now received my first issue in a timely manner and am waiting for my free In the February 2009 issue, the offer of £20.50 is still available but the free gift has expired. Given the current financial climate it wouldn't surprise me if they put on more incentives to subscribe in the next couple of months. It might be worth keeping an eye out for a good deal. Other websites that sell magazine subscriptions have Ideal Home available, however, I couldn't find a better price than direct when I subscribed. *Website* - www.idealhomemagazine.co.uk - I think the website is good although perhaps more basic than some. I have also noticed there are a few glitches in the system at times. There is a forum, where you can chat to other site users and also a blog spot. You can also enter competitions on the site for free. In summary, the material included is mainstream and contemporary. The colour schemes are tasteful and realistic for everyday living; no Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen here! The photography is excellent. I thoroughly enjoy reading this magazine. Whether you will like it or not will probably be linked to your budget and your taste. If you have a preference for traditional tastes or prefer a higher end selection of designers other magazines would be more suitable.
Baby Georgie received Dillon the Donkey from her grandparents this Christmas. He is suitable for babies from birth to 12 months. They purchased him online and told me that delivery was quite slow and they were relieved they had ordered well in advance of Christmas. Dillon is part of the 'Blossom Farm' toy range. When he was unwrapped our immediate reaction, as parents, was, 'Ahhh isn't he cute' . He is a soft, activity toy in pastel colours with a few bright accents. He has a bee attached to one foot and a flower with scrunchy petals attached to his other foot. In his arms he holds a large carrot. On the front of the carrot is a pull out window (also make crackling noises when touched); when opened, this reveals a baby safe mirror. His hands and ears make noises when squeezed. He is made of soft material and looks very durable. He is also quite large, 12 inches in height. We felt confident that he was safe to give to our little girl. Unfortunately, although he looks nice she hasn't shown much interest in him. Some amusement was to be had with the window that hides the mirror. Other than that though he doesn't have many features for baby to play with. When you take this into account he is actually just a rather expensive cuddly toy. For the price tag I would have expected him to do more, such as make sounds when pressed in different places for example. In conclusion, I wouldn't recommend this product, as I don't think he represents good value for money. *Additional Information* *About the store* The Early Learning Centre sells toys and learning activities for babies and young children. It is a British shop that started off as a mail order company in the 1970s and now has 215 stores across the UK. The chain was bought by Mothercare for £85 million in 2007. There is also a number of Mothercare, Debenhams, Boots and Sainsburys that sell Early Learning Centre products. The brand is known for high quality toys that are made to stringent safety regulations. *Product price* Dillon is available on the Early Leaning Centre website for £15 (http://www.elc.co.uk/toy/blossom-farm-activity-dillon-donkey/ )
Not long after my daughter had been born we started to notice the back of her head was flattening at one side. We soon realised that it was being caused by a preference for looking to the left when sleeping. Like most parents we follow the information provided by the charity SIDS, to prevent cot death. This includes always lying a baby on his / her back to sleep. We were advised amongst other things to make the most of 'tummy time' for playing as much as possible to provide relief to her head . Through my research into ways of improving the problem I came across the Lamaze Spin and Explore Gym. This is really quite different to many play gyms on the market as in the centre of the gym is a moulded red ladybird that is shaped for a baby to be laid on it on their tummy so their arms and legs hang over the sides and touch the floor. This allows babies to play on their tummies to improve muscle development and head control. The ladybird can rotate through 360 degrees so babies can push themselves round. Underneath the ladybird is a brightly coloured play mat shaped like a flower with five petals. Each petal is a different colour and some have toys attached to them. These are as follows: 1) The main colour is pink. It pictures a bunny and a large flower with orange petals. There aren't any extra features on this petal. 2) The main colours are blue and purple. It has a pocket attached that is shaped as a bird's nest. Hiding in the pocket is a pull out baby bird. 3) The main colour is purple. It features a butterfly, it's wings come out of the play mat and crinkle when touched. 4) The main colours are red and orange. It has a pullout bee attached that has a rattle inside it. 5) The main colour is green. It features two worms. There are two leaves that come out from the play-mat that crinkle when scrunched by little hands. It is described as being suitable for babies between birth and six months. The advertising states that from five months when baby can sit unaided you can stop using the spinner and use as a play mat alone. I found this to be cheapest at Amazon due to the option of free delivery so chose to buy it from this site. On checking today it was £21.17 delivered from Amazon. Apart from possibly checking out Ebay this still seems to be the cheapest option. I had this wrapped up for Christmas and we first tried it out on Boxing Day when Georgie was 10 weeks old and a day old. She really didn't like it at all, at this age she wasn't able to lift her head up. She was only laid on in for about a minute when she got upset and we took her off it again. Since then, I have tried putting her on it each day. Over time she has started to tolerate it a little more each day. She can now lift her head right up for a couple of minutes and can push herself round. However, she still isn't keen on it and won't stay on it for more than four or five minutes. I am hoping that over time as her strength improves she will like it more. However, I do think Lamaze should consider having this marked for three months onwards instead of from birth. In fact I don't think it would be a good idea at all for babies with no head control whatsoever. In addition, I don't think it will be much use once she can sit unaided as a play mat as the mat is rather small and not really all that exciting once you remove the ladybug. This is a good choice for babies from about three months with some head control that enjoy playing on their tummy. For my baby so far it hasn't provided too many benefits as I think she is too young to really use it to its full potential.