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I have just bought my third Bodum milk frother (otherwise known as a Latteo Milk Whisp), not because the previous two have been defective but as we have managed to smash the previous ones. The fact that I have bought a third should tell you how good a product I think it is! The frother looks very like a cafetiere - so much so that I have occasionally put the coffee grounds in here and filled up with boiling water before realising my mistake. It is slightly smaller than my normal cafetiere which would serve 4 people. I use it to make delicious cappuccinos or latte coffee at home or even just adding hot frothy milk to a cup of instant coffee as a treat. Cold milk is added to the line about two inches from the bottom of the jug and then I microwave it on high for about 2 minutes, you then put in the lid which has a plunger attached which you then manually move up and down which thickens the milk and makes it frothy. This takes hardly any effort at all and you can do it the other way around i.e. move the plunger up and down and then put the jug in the microwave - for a similar if slightly thicker result. You can scoop off the thicker froth from the top or just pour straight into the coffee. I find adding milk to the line gives enough hot frothy milk for two large latte coffees. The only gripe I would have is a slightly larger jug might be useful when you are making more coffees. Adding milk above the line runs the risk of the milk boiling over. I usually use skimmed milk which gives an excellent result although am sure semi skimmed and whole milk would be even creamier. I have previously had a coffee machine which had a milk steamer attachment but found this very fiddly to use and I could never really get the plunger as clean as I'd like after I'd used it a few times so much prefer this basic frother. The frother is easy to keep clean although if you are doing it by hand its best to wash it sooner rather than later to stop the milk solids hardening on the plunger (which has a fine mesh) although I usually pop it in the dishwasher. The glass is fairly thin which I expect is why I have broken two of these previously. I paid £12.70 for the one that came today from Amazon but I think these are sold in lots of places.
We had this dvd sealed and unwatched hanging around the house for ages before a rubbish night on telly drove us to give it a try. Am so glad we did as it was an excellent film although for the first half of the film I felt very much on edge worrying what I might see - having read some reviews and the 18 rating I was expecting it to be more graphic than it actually was. Paddy Considine is the lead character in the film who I recognised from the fantastic Red Riding series on TV. He plays Richard who has returned to his home town in Derbyshire after being in the army to avenge the wrong done to his younger brother Antony who is mentally handicapped to some extent and in Richard's absence has been abused and taken advantage of by a group of small time thugs/drug dealers. The film flashes back to Richard and Antony's childhood and scenes of the wrong done to Antony while Richard was away tying in with the brutal way Richard metes out his revenge on the group, ensuring your sympathies don't swing towards the victims of Richard's actions. The film is violent certainly but doesn't focus on the actual acts but the aftermath. I found Richard's wearing of a gas mask as he confronts the gang members more menacing than the acts he commits although I'm not sure what the significance of the mask is. In parts the film is even amusing, particularly the sight of the gang crammed into a 2CV convertible as they band together to try and keep safe from Richard. I have read that the film cost £180,000 to make but if I hadn't read that first I'm not sure I would have had the low budget nature of the film uppermost in my mind as I'm not sure spending any more on the film would have made it any better as it felt very realistic and the acting was brilliant, not just the lead role but all the characters. The only thing I felt was slightly unrealistic was the immediate realisation of each of the gang that Richard's reappearance in town was bad news as I don't believe mindless bullies would have the awareness that what they did to Antony was beyond the pale - if they did I don't think they would have acted in the same manner to start with. That aside I would highly recommend the film to adult viewers.
Buried is the story of Paul Conroy, an American contractor working as a driver in Iraq who is ambushed while travelling in a convoy and regains consciousness finding himself quite literally buried alive. Conroy is in a coffin buried in the desert and fortunately for watchers he has been buried with a zippo lighter and glowsticks and a mobile phone which amazingly has a fairly reliable signal so he can contact the outside world. Conroy has a desperate struggle to reach out to find someone who can help him before the oxygen and his phone battery run out. He tries family members, 911 and his employer before getting somewhere with the FBI and the US State Department. In the meantime he is contacted by his kidnappers who demand a US $5million payout by 9pm that day and urge him to make an appeal video which the US administration advise strongly against. I won't spoil the plot for you by telling you any more about the way the film unfolds. If I had known before watching the film that the entire film would consist of the performance of one actor inside a coffin I'm not sure I would have wanted to see it but I have to say after the opening minutes of the film I was totally transfixed and couldn't help wondering what I would do in a similar situation. Ryan Reynolds who I'd previously known only as the ex husband of Scarlett Johannsen and co-star to Sandra Bullock in the romcom The Proposal, was brilliant in the part. Would highly recommend Buried. It has a 15 rating which seems a bit high given the content of some 12A films but must be down to some of the language the character uses when he is trying to convey the urgency of his situation to some of the people he calls - understandable given the context!!
Previously thought Anne Fine only wrote for children so was intrigued to see she had written several adult novels and decided to give this one a go. Picked it up late one night thinking I'd just read a few pages - and put it down again halfway through! Which tells you just how readable I found it. The story is told by Tilly, whose second marriage to the hapless Geoff isn't all sweetness and light, and focusses on the sidelining of Tilly in her position as step-parent to Geoff's two children from his own previous marriage. Tilly is a very strong character and the author cleverly tells the story in Tilly's own words at the same time revealing a rather unpleasant side of her. I found myself reading most of the book willing her to become more likeable and force myself to see things from her point of view. Communication between Tilly and Geoff is patchy to say the least and Tilly gripes about the lack of honesty on Geoff's part when she herself behaves quite deviously. As well as Tilly and Geoff and Geoff's two children there are a few other characters who crop up through the story who clearly understand Tilly a whole lot better than Geoff does. I don't want to give anything of the plot away but would comment that I rarely rattle through a book quite so quickly as I did this one. It was immensely readable and I'm looking forward to trying some more of Anne Fine's adult novels - there are seven in total listed in the front of this one.
Groupon is a website which I believe was bought this year by Google for several billion although I'm guessing the site must be much bigger in the States as I don't know that many people who have used the UK version yet. You can register your details on the site and ask for offers in your area to be emailed to you daily. The daily offers arrive in your email inbox early in the morning and once enough takers sign up for the deal it becomes active. Have checked today's offers and they include 5 sessions of laser hair removal for £139 instead of £1600, full make up and manicure for £15 instead of £40, a car service for £59 instead of £162 or a bespoke suit from Max Hence (who he?) for £495 instead of £1200. These offers are based in London and I don't really have any idea if they are good value or not as apart from having my car serviced I don't buy bespoke suits, have manicures or remove body hair by laser so can't judge. I have signed up for national offers and ones based in my area and have so far bought 4 deals, two I have yet to use. The first one I bought was a wine tasting evening which included learning about wine and a two course dinner at a London venue. I paid for two vouchers at £59 each instead of a £179 value. About 24 hours after purchasing the deal I had an email confirmation and details of how to book the evening. I booked a Saturday evening and received an email confirming the date and venue and a couple of days before the evening had another email advising of a change in venue which was slightly less convenient but I was OK with it. So you can imagine how annoyed I was when we turned up at the new venue (in a very deserted Smithfield on a Saturday night) to find that we were turned away as Groupon had overbooked. So together with about 20 others we filled in a complaints form with our details with the manager there and headed off into the night. Had expected to receive an email or telephone call from Groupon or the organisers to apologise but a couple of days later I telephoned Groupon myself who took my details and undertook to refund my money. Which they did but didn't really compensate me for the ruined evening, taxi fares, train tickets etc. So my first experience of booking a Groupon deal was a disaster. My second was much better as a local hair salon was offering a cut, blow dry and hair treatment for £28 instead of £83. I rang to make the appointment and was offered the chance to book a half price colour treatment at the same time. I took them up on this and was very satisfied with the quality of the cut, colour and how nice the salon was. Am not sure the hair treatment included as part of the voucher was really worth it though. When I got to the till I had to pay £57 for my 50% share of the colour treatment. Now if that was really half price it would normally be £114 plus the stated £83 for a cut, blow dry and hair treatment. If my local salon really charges £197 for a colour and cut then I'm not surprised they have to try and attract new customers using Groupon as I would only expect to pay that kind of price in a London salon. The £85 I actually paid is much more what I have paid previously for a colour and cut. So in my experience although limited to just two deals I'm not really impressed so far with Groupon. I think its a great idea and is a good way for businesses to attract new customers but unless they really do offer a bargain as an incentive to try their services - as a loss leader - then like me customers are not going to be taken in.
One of Muller Light's fairly extensive range, the vanilla yogurt with chocolate sprinkles is available as a single pot at 61 pence each or as part of a six pack where you get 2 of these, 2 orange flavoured yogurts with chocolate sprinkles and 2 vanilla yogurts with chocolate sprinkles and a layer of black cherry at the bottom. The latter ones are by far my favourite although the vanilla with chocolate sprinkles is quite tasty and low in calories at less than 90 calories for the 165g pot. The only gripe I have really is that the chocolate sprinkles are very small and don't in fact taste much of chocolate at all and would be better described as chocolate grit as they are very hard as chocolate always is when refrigerated. The vanilla yogurt part of the yogurt is not the same as a muller light vanilla yogurt which is a much creamier and stronger tasting vanilla yogurt all round. So to sum up not one of Muller Lights best flavours but a tasty snack nevertheless.
Kilmainham Gaol is one of the stops on the Dublin open top bus tour we took on our recent trip to the city and had been recommended to us by our hotel receptionist as well worth a visit. The Gaol is the largest unoccupied prison in Europe and is only open to visitors as part of a guided tour and you are given a timed ticket on entry - we had to wait 30 minutes for our tour which we spent in the museum section which was a bit confusingly laid out but we had enough time to see most of the exhibits before our tour. There were about 35 people on our tour which did make progress between stops a bit arduous as we had to wait for stragglers and for everyone to regroup before the tour guide could give us the next talk. Apart from that frustration though the tour was excellent and the guide was a really enthusiastic lady who made the tour both interesting and amusing. As well as incarcerating men, women and children for petty crimes the prison housed many murderers and also many of the men who organised the uprisings against British rule over the centuries. The cells in the older part of the prison were dark and damp but the Victorian part will be familiar to anyone who has seen any dramas set in prisons as was built to maximise natural light and feeling of space which they believed would give inmates an incentive to be free. Being unfamiliar with Irish political history the tour was an excellent introduction and was a highlight of our visit. The tour takes about an hour and costs 6 euros for an adult. The Gaol also has a shop and tearooms but we didn't visit these so cannot comment.
Small Wars is Sadie Jones's second novel and if you enjoyed her writing style in the Outcast then I believe you will enjoy this book too. She really seems to capture the restrained emotions of the middle classes in the 1950s. Small Wars is the story of Clara and Hal Treherne and their family. Hal is a newly promoted Major in the British Army who is posted to Cyprus in the late 1950s at the time of rebellion by the Greek Cypriot population seeking independence. I know very little about the conflict and wouldn't say that the book dwelled much on the history of the island and indeed I found some of the strategic and military detail a bit dull but that aside the book was engrossing. Clara struggles to find her feet when she arrives in Cyprus and devotes herself to the couple's young twin daughters and the stresses of Hal's job as the army tackles insurgency by hostile locals impact greatly on their relationship and so much is left unsaid by the couple. I don't want to say too much about events in the book as this would spoil your enjoyment but would say the book is above all a love story and would highly recommend it.
I hadn't heard of this book before it came up as one of my suggestions on amazon - I have previously bought a few books by Nicci French and when I read the outline it sounded really interesting so I bought it and am very glad I did. Sarah Finch is a young teacher who lives unhappily with her alcoholic mother who has been unable to come to terms with the disappearance of Charlie, Sarah's brother when they were children. Out jogging Sarah stumbles upon the corpse of one of her students, Jenny, who went missing a couple of days before. The book then follows the unfolding of the investigation and is interspersed with short chapters which detail the earlier events following Charlie's disappearance. I found the plot believable enough although I didn't think the extent to which the police seemed to share their findings with Sarah - given that she was a suspect herself having found the body - was totally plausible. There is a romance between Sarah and one of the case detectives which also doesn't ring quite true given what the reader is told about Sarah's character and the fact any policeman getting involved with anyone so closely connected to a case would surely be taken off it straight away. For me these aspects didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book at all and I would say amazon's judgement in this case was spot on - if you enjoy Nicci French's writing style I would say definitely give this one a go. I will be looking out for the next book by this author.
Last Chance Harvey is a gentle romantic comedy starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Hoffman plays Harvey Shine, an American musician struggling to hang onto his job writing jingles for TV commercials and Thompson is Kate Walker who is single and heavily depended upon by her mother (an excellent cameo by Eileen Atkins). The two meet first at Heathrow Airport where Kate works collecting information from arriving travellers and approaches Harvey with her clipboard who rudely refuses to answer her survey questions as he hurries to get into central London where the celebratory weekend for his daughter's wedding are about to commence. Harvey is clearly fairly estranged from his daughter and is viewed less than amicably by his ex-wife and her husband who it appears is filling the role of stepfather all too well and Harvey is left on the sidelines at the family meal held on the eve of the wedding. His former wife gently suggests he stop knocking back the alcohol, hinting at the problems their marriage may have encountered and there is a sad moment when his daughter tells him she has asked her stepfather to give her away at her wedding. Harvey leaves the wedding ceremony the minute the couple's vows are complete and heads for the airport to catch a flight back to a crucial work meeting but gets stuck in a traffic jam and misses his flight and subsequently loses his job. This is when Harvey and Kate meet again as he heads for the airport bar where she is having her lunch break. Somewhat unbelievably the two strike up a rapport and spend the day together in an uncharacteristically quiet and clean London and end up at the wedding reception. I won't spoil the film for you but what happens at the reception and the following day aren't completely unpredictable. Without the fine acting of the leads, particularly I think from Emma Thompson, the film would be disappointing - as it is its a nice way to spend an evening but not one I'd watch again. Didn't notice if there were any extras on the DVD, sorry.
This is the second book I've read by this author and unfortunately I haven't read them in chronological order so I knew fairly early on "whodunnit" as the later book had already revealed this. The book opens with successful businesswoman Naomi worried by the disappearance of her married lover Robert who cannot get the local police to investigate thoroughly particularly given that his wife claims he isn't missing at all. To get the police to take her seriously Naomi decides that she will have to persuade the police that Robert is a dangerous criminal by describing a horrific incident he was responsible for, the details she uses are those of a traumatic episode in her past. This is part of a series of books which feature the same team of detectives but I didnt find the relationships between police colleagues, or police and suspects totally believable and although I still enjoyed the book (while already knowing what was going to happen in the end) I am not a total fan of Hannah's style of writing. That said, I would recommend this book and will read others she's written but will check I'm reading them in the correct order from now on!
We've been buying Britvic J20s for our children when have eaten out or taken them for a pub Sunday lunch for a few years now - they don't like fizzy drinks yet and the squash in a pub is always a bit rubbish so these are a perfect choice for them. The J20s come in a range of flavours, there's an apple & raspberry, an orange & passionfruit, a melon & something (!) but the apple and mango version is a favourite. I have started buying these to have in the house for special meals - when us adults are having wine with dinner I've given the kids one of these each. They are currently on offer for 2 packs of 4 bottles for £5.00 - which makes them just over 60 pence each. When we've eaten out we have paid considerably more. Since buying them to drink at home I have drunk the odd bottle of this and have found them to be very sweet - which is probably why my children like them so much. My children also drink lots of fresh apple & mango juice sold in 1 litre cartons from the supermarket which tastes very similar but slightly fruitier - probably because J20s are in fact only 40% juice - the rest is water plus sugar and some other additives. Am not sure why Britvic think its necessary to add sugar - fresh apple and mango juice is plenty sweet enough. The bottles contain 275ml which I think is a bit on the small side, my kids always ask for another drink after one of these which makes family meals out quite expensive so we often switch them to water after one of these. They contain 118 calories per bottle so a couple of these would be a good chunk of their daily calorie requirement as well. But as an occasional treat they are fine. Realise I have reviewed this as a children's drink and am sure that Britvic are aiming this at an older market - they do look and sound like an alcopop after all - but they would be far too sweet for me to drink all night.
I haven't enjoyed the last couple of Picoult's books as much as her earlier ones - I don't know whether this is because her stories are often formulaic or whether they have just not been as good. Anyway I bought Handle with Care on a recent holiday to the States - I'd finished the books I'd taken with me and there wasn't much choice in the supermarket I was in. Am really glad I picked the book as I could hardly put it down, I was in tears many times which shows how engaged I was with the story. But I was so disappointed with the ending - the last 2 page chapter is such a let down and I felt exactly the same as when I finished My Sister's Keeper - that the author couldn't be bothered to finish the book off properly. I like twists at the end of a book as much as the next person but only when something new is revealed or explained by the ending. Handle with Care tells the story of the O'Keefe family, dad Sean is a hard working local policeman, mum Charlotte is an ex-pastry chef with 2 daughters, 13 year old Amelia from a previous relationship now adopted by Sean and 6 year old Willow who suffers from a genetic disease - Osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bone disease. This was diagnosed in utero but crucially not at the earliest opportunity - an 18 week scan by her best friend and maternity doctor Pippa did in retrospect reveal certain indicators of the disease. The O'Keefes' family life has been massively impacted by the realities of Willow's disease - financially, practically and emotionally and of course Willow herself is in almost constant pain from broken and healing bones and she cannot join in with 'normal' childhood activity. However Willow is a real character, precociously bright for her age and determined to live her life to the full. The bulk of the book is taken up with the court case brought by Charlotte who decides to sue her doctor (best friend Pippa) for wrongful birth - in other words saying that had she known Willow would suffer from this disease she would have chosen to terminate the pregnancy at 18 weeks. The story is told from the perspective of mum, dad, sister, doctor and mum's lawyer in turn which makes the book so readable. However interspersed throughout the book are recipes for desserts (mum being a trained pastry chef) - whether this adds to the story at all is beyond me as after the first couple I just skipped them. I expect most who have read any of her previous books will be familiar with the dilemmas the characters face but I did think this one was particularly gripping and if it wasn't for the rubbish ending I would have given it 5 stars. I see the book is on sale at amazon for £4.00 so would highly recommend it for a summer holiday read.
My family and I recently saw the 3D version of this film in the cinema but none of us have read the book its based on so I don't know how true the story is to the book. The film follows the fortunes of Hiccup, a young viking boy whose mother is dead and whose father is the dynamic, loud and very large leader of this group of Vikings who regularly leads battles against local dragons who steal the Vikings cattle and sheep. Hiccup is quite weedy in comparison to the others and a source of embarrassment to his overbearing father who reluctantly allows his son to be enrolled in the training scheme to fight dragons. Desperate to impress his peers and most importantly his father Hiccup has invented a machine to knock dragons out of the sky - which works but requires him to deal the fatal blow to the dragon that he knocks out of the sky. Which of course he can't but what he does learn about his dragon allows him to excel in dragon school and turns around the views of the rest of the Group and of course his father. I don't want to spoil the plot but suffice to say the film has lots of moral lessons, some tear jerking moments and alls well that ends well. The 3D-ness of the film isn't overwhelming so I imagine seeing it in 2D would be almost as enjoyable. A great family film.
On a recent holiday to Florida in both the villas I stayed in I found recommendations from other holidaymakers for Applebee's restaurants which were easy to find, there must be as many of these around as McDonalds. So we gave them a try on a couple of occasions. The interior was much nicer than the outside, the air conditioning was on high and the central bar area reminded me of the sitcom Cheers. There were lots of TV screens around showing American sports, not something that interested me and if it did you wouldn't be able to hear the commentary. Both times we had very friendly waitresses and the manager came along during our meal to check everything was OK. The kids menu had the usual offerings although our children enjoyed the kids pack they were given that kept them busy. The menu is extensive but would recommend that you just go for the main courses as the starters were so huge we struggled to finish everything. There seemed to be a happy hour on selected drinks like beer, wine and fruit juices for the kids, a buy one get one free deal although we could split the offer ie. have one beer each rather than have 2 beers at once with the second getting warm. Between us we tried several of their steaks, ribs, fajitas and burgers - all of which were mostly good although the ribs weren't as good as most we had elsewhere. Main courses are around the $10 to $14 dollar mark and came with a couple of side dishes each - a choice of fries, baked potato or mashed potatoes with broccoli or coleslaw for example and free refills with soft drinks so good value. The waitress brought along a box to take home my son's uneaten dinner (he lost his appetite straight after ordering!). A good safe choice for dining out during a family holiday in the States but a bit loud for a leisurely chat over dinner.