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    • More +
      07.04.2010 14:00
      Very helpful



      Saute out your meals the slow cooker way

      This is my second slow cooker, there was nothing wrong with the first one it was one of those 3 in 1 types that could be used to slow cook, steam or cook rice. I found I wasn't really using it that much as I seldom cook rice, own a two tier steamer for use on the hob and the pot used to slow cook wasn't the sort that you could use on the table. In short we didn't really get on so after several uneventful years together we parted company (amicably I might add) and off it went to find a new lease of life with my sister.

      Mr. T. agreed I could look for a suitable replacement as at the time the weather was starting to turn rather cool and the amount of days the oven was on a low heat for the best part of the day cooking our evening meal were increasing. With the price of gas soaring and our central heating working overtime we concluded ( Mr. T. as ever thinking of a saving to his bank balance no doubt) that the purchase of a new one should be done sooner rather than later.

      Out came the Argos catalogue and I perused what was on offer. There were 17 slow cookers listed, differing in size, price and ability. Although I generally only cook on a daily basis for three, Messrs T. have healthy appetites I needed to concentrate on the ones capable of cooking enough for at least 4. Reading the blurb it was discovered I was best looking at ones with a 4.7 litre capacity which narrowed my search down somewhat.

      The one that did stand out, almost with neon flashing lights was the Crock pot sauté SC7500 slow cooker priced at £43.99. Resisting the temptation to put my coat on grab my bag and rush out to buy one, practicality took over and I set about searching online for the best deal.

      Not surprisingly it was available from several outlets all selling it for various prices. I was rather pleased to see John Lewis amongst them who were offering it for £35.15 (the same as Amazon) and quickly removed Mr. T's credit card from his wallet, placed an order going through one of the favourable cash back sites. It arrived 2 days later, just as the weather changed from cool to very cold.

      *** What's in the box ***
      Well a slow cooker of course, but not just any slow cooker. The heating base unit has none slip feet; the removable stoneware pot is the thing that really makes this stand out from others is it features ETC which is the newest innovation in cooking technology." ETC is a special formulation of stoneware which can withstand extreme temperature changes ". It is
      safe to use not only in the heating base unit but on stove tops, in the fridge, freezer as well as conventional and microwave ovens too. In short it allows you to prepare, cook, store leftovers and reheat all using the same stoneware pot. I have only used mine on the hob and as a slow cooker and therefore unable to comment how it performs when used in other ways.

      There is also a heat diffuser which is basically a metal rack which you will need to use should you use the pot on electric hobs. I assume this is a pretty new addition as I read on Amazon that some people had previously experienced problems which resulted in their pots cracking when used in this way. We have a gas oven and hob so I have had no need to make use of it.

      The 8 page instruction manual is perhaps better described as a paper booklet but explains how to use and look after your slow cooker. It also includes 5 recipe ideas to get you on the road to successful slow cooking.

      An additional Sauté slow cooker recipe book written by the celebrity chef Phil Vickery (can't stand the bloke actually) includes 15 recipes spanning 30 pages and is conveniently split into the following sections: - starters (2), mains vegetarian (2) Mains fish (2) mains meat (6) and desserts (3). The recipes aren't exactly what I'd call everyday fodder but they do give you a good idea on timings should you wish to create something similar, this came in very handy when I made my first soups and curries the slow cooker way.

      I must say I was stunned and amazed to see desserts in there as it had never entered my head that these could be cooked in such a way and as a result of this I am seriously considering giving the Bitter chocolate & coffee bread pudding a whirl.

      This slow cooker has 3 settings high, low and keep warm, which is operated by simply turning a knob on the front of the heating base unit.

      The high setting reaches a temperature of around 300°f with low reaching about 200°f. The keep warm function is designed to keep your food at the perfect temperature until you are ready to devour your wonderful creations. It is not advisable to use this setting for cooking or re heating.

      The heat settings are really easy to grasp and if you work on the assumption one hour on high is more or less equivalent to 2½ on low, you won't go far wrong. It is recommended that most uncooked meat and vegetable combinations will require at least 8 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high. Most things will cook well if left for the day but certain things don't hold up too well if subjected to 8-10 hours cooking. These include, Chinese vegetables, rice, noodles, pasta, mushrooms, peppers and seafood, it is therefore best to add these around 2 hours if cooking on low or 1 hour if on high before serving. If your chosen recipe requires milk, then again this is best left to the end or you may well find it curdles. If you really do need to add the milk at the beginning use the evaporated variety instead.

      I tend to start things off regardless on the high setting for the first hour or so then turn it down to low for the rest of the cooking time, however that's just my personal preference and is by no means a necessary requirement.

      As the Crock pot retains all moisture which would normally evaporate during conventional cooking, it is important to note that when cooking by this method you need to reduce the amount of liquid you use, nine times out of ten you'll find you end up with more liquid at the finish than you had at the start. The 1½ pints of stock I would normally use if cooking a casserole in the gas oven is reduced to ½ pint when using the slow cooker method. Because the liquid doesn't reduce, it is virtually impossible to over cook anything and there is no chances of it boiling dry either should you find yourself running late. An added bonus is that slow cooking not only retains valuable vitamins and minerals but perhaps more important... flavour.

      Because this Crock pot can be used on the stove top as well it makes short work in the preparation department with the added bonus of saving on washing up too.... got to be a good thing especially if you are like me and don't own a dishwasher.

      If I am planning to slow cook a casserole the following day, I find it easier to prepare things the night before. Vegetables will be peeled and chopped whilst meat will be cut into bite size pieces. The next day I lightly oil the inside of the stoneware pot, plug the base unit in and turn to the high setting. I like to brown my meat first and this can be done in the pot on the hob, it's not necessary but I do find by doing so the crusty bits that form on the meat, (apologies to vegetarians if the thought of that repulses you) really enhance the finished dish not only by colour but a lovely rich flavour too. Once seared in go the prepared vegetables, usually onions, leeks, carrots and celery a handful of pearl barley hot stock and mushroom ketchup give it a stir before popping on the lid and placing in the base unit.

      You may have noticed that I have omitted to add any seasoning; this is because the flavours are more concentrated when cooking by this method and as such is best left until the end of cooking to avoid any possible disasters. The same can be said if you are using garlic- go easy as the flavours become very powerful with slow cooking. I made the mistake of using my usual 3 cloves of garlic in a chilli and I swear the vampires could smell us as far away as Transylvania. Beware too if you normally use fresh chillies, leave these till last too, unless you enjoy blowing your socks off.

      I like to turn my casseroles into one pot meals so instead of doing a side dish of say mashed potatoes, I turn it into what's known in Yorkshire as Ash, a dish my Gran used to make ( not to be confused with hash as in the corned beef dish) by throwing diced, par boiled potatoes into the pot. It's not advisable to add raw potatoes to slow cook as I found to my dismay. The starch released from the spuds during cooking resulted in a scum like layer on the top and whilst it didn't spoil the flavour, it wasn't really attractive. I now boil some potatoes the night before so I can bung them in the pot with everything else. If you want to turn this into a real winter warmer, during the last couple of hours cooking, turn the heat up high and throw in some dumplings.

      Whilst this one does not have a built in timer, I believe the SCV1600BS model does. I don't think this is any great loss really as the idea of slow cooking is that "it cooks slowly" for the best part of the day. You get it going in the morning and at the end of the day you have a lovely nutritious meal ready and waiting to be enjoyed.

      The Stoneware pot is elegant enough to be taken to the table and this has been borne out in its design. The handles stay cool whilst the rest of the pot is hot so make sure you put a suitable mat down before you put in on your dining table.

      When I first unpacked mine I was a little alarmed at the shape of the pot as after peering inside it didn't look that big, although the box states that this 4.7 litre capacity pot is capable of holding enough to feed 5, I just couldn't see it somehow. The pot is shaped so it is wider at the top measuring around 9½ inches, then narrows down to 6inches at the bottom. It reminds me of a witch's cauldron. . It goes to show that appearances can be deceptive and I can confirm this definitely holds enough to feed 5 as it claims.

      One downside for some may be the fact that lid to the pot is not transparent so you can't see how your food is cooking without lifting the lid. It's not an issue for me and neither would it be for those who are out of the house whilst it's in action. It is however, very tempting to lift the lid and have a peek especially when using it on the first few occasions, but there is a price to pay for doing so as each lift of the lid will add at least another 10-15 minutes to your cooking time, so these lifts are best kept to a minimum.

      Once you are familiar with your slow cooker you will find it easy to adapt your trusty recipes and I have successfully created numerous casseroles, soups, chillies, pot roasts, curries plus our favourite Greek dishes of Stifado and Kleftico by using the following conversions from conventional to slow cook.

      15-30 mins = 4-6hrs (low) or 1½ - 2hrs (high)
      30-45 mins = 6-10hrs (low) or 3-4hrs (high)
      50mins to 3 hrs = 8-10hrs (low) or 4-6hrs (high)

      Because I have found these conversions very easy to adapt, I don't feel the need to spend money buying books containing recipes specifically designed for slow cooking ( a sigh of relief from Mr. T. no doubt)

      Whether you choose low or high your kitchen will be filled with the most delicious aromas which will have you salivating and dying to tuck in. I have Oxtail in Guinness cooking at the moment and it smells absolutely divine.

      I have found it is unnecessary to use the high setting if you are leaving your food to cook all day. Whilst the slow cooker is a very economical way of cooking using only the same amount of electricity as your average light bulb, the high setting is certainly more powerful than I first thought. I used it on my "first test drive "and was rather alarmed to be able to hear the stock bubbling away in a rather ferocious manner, so in my opinion it is totally unnecessary for all day cooking and best kept for occasions when you are short of time, however cooking certain dishes like casseroles, oxtail and pot roasts on a low gentle simmer does produce the best results.

      The stoneware pot is very easy to look after and wash as you don't tend to get food sticking to it, especially if as I do you coat the inside with a thin layer of oil before you start cooking. It is also suitable to go in the dishwasher too. It is important though not use metal utensils as this could scratch the pot.

      I use mine at least 3 times during the week and can certainly recommend this model.

      "Slow cooking is the art of making something sublime and special out of something ordinary"----- Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

      So whether you are working full time, a busy parent or like me fed up with spending too much time in the kitchen This Crockpot sauté slow cooker could just be what you are looking for and you can get yours from numerous outlets including :-

      John Lewis £35.15
      Amazon £35.15
      Tesco Direct £43.97
      It no longer seems to be available from Argos as it does not appear in their spring/ summer catalogue for 2010.

      ©tune57 ( previously posted by me on ciao with pictures)


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      • More +
        29.03.2010 15:36
        Very helpful


        • Reliability


        Cleans without chemicals

        Our Vax hand held steam cleaner finally gave up the ghost and is sadly no longer with us. Mr. T. was rather reluctant to assist me in my search for a suitable replacement, until that is, I casually reminded him of the days when cleaning the grouting in the bathroom involved an old toothbrush, diluted bleach and a great deal of elbow grease. Contemplating the effort that would be required to carry out such a task his reluctance amazingly vanished, obviously realising there would a lot less effort required opening his wallet and wouldn't be quite as painful either.

        My first port of call was the good old reliable Argos catalogue, to get an idea of what was available and the likely cost involved. It is surprising just how many hand held steamers there are on the market, all varying in size, performance and price.

        The one that really caught my eye was the Electrolux Z355A Enviro Steam Gun Cleaner, from the description it seemed perfect for our needs and it wasn't too expensive either.

        I set Mr. T. the task of finding the best deal online. Not surprisingly it was available almost everywhere and the price was more or less the same, give or take a few pence.

        The dark clouds that had descended around Mr. T. suddenly started to slowly lift and the sun began to peek through when he spotted Tesco Direct were amongst the list of retailers, as not only could it be purchased through a cash back site but we would earn Double Clubcard points too. Feeling rather pleased with himself, he immediately placed an order paying £48.97 and opted to collect it from store to avoid any delivery costs. (Ok it wasn't our usual store but it wasn't too far away and we did our weekly shop there at the same time, killing two birds with one stone). Given the fact I'd managed to use my somewhat limited female charm in persuading him we needed a new one in the first place, I didn't want to push my luck by suggesting we had it delivered to our home address as well.

        I did manage to resist the temptation to test drive this new appliance as soon as we got home, instead taking the opportunity to familiarise myself with the operating instructions and various accessories included. The 11 page owners guide gives clear illustrated instructions and informs us that " The steam gun is designed as a complete change from old methods of traditional cleaning and that this appliance is designed as a multi-purpose cleaner with a variety of applications ".. Sounds rather impressive doesn't it!

        Being more than pleased to learn the operation of this would not require undue pressure on my thumb ( or any other digit for that matter) like our old Vax did, I became rather excited ( sad I know) at the thought of putting this new addition to the family through it's paces.

        **** WHAT YOU GET FOR YOUR MONEY ****

        Quite simply a 1200 watt hand held steam cleaner with 9 accessories. The actual machine weighs in at 1.8kg, has a 6 metre cable and a water chamber capable of holding 2.5 litres of water. It all looked and sounded pretty impressive and I found myself preferring to get started with it rather than relax with a coffee and finishing the book I have been reading on and off for the last 2 months.

        This little machine is capable of providing 22 minutes continuous steam time, just by filling the water chamber, plugging it in and pressing the trigger, Ok you have to keep your finger on the trigger but it is by no means an uncomfortable task.
        The steam Gun Cleaner has a very clever articulated joint which allows the jet of steam to be directed exactly where you want.

        ** Accessories **
        As previously mentioned there are 9 of these in total including a measuring jug and funnel.

        *Straight Nozzle*

        This is around 7 inches long and can be used alone or with either the round scrub brush or angled nozzle. I find you get better accuracy with this especially as you can adjust it to point just where you want it. This is brilliant for blasting the cooker hob, work surfaces, window ledges, tiles, wash basins, kitchen cupboards even on the floor round the loo (why is it that men seem to have problems aiming where they should?).
        It also works a treat cleaning our kitchen and outside wheelie bin too.
        It proved its weight in gold when we woke one morning to a blocked sink in the bathroom. No amount of plunging helped, neither did using the commercially produced drain unblocking powder resolve the problem. It was not possible to undo the U bend sump due to the sink pedestal being close up to the wall.

        Mr T was seriously contemplating putting his hand in his wallet yet again and calling out a Plumber for some assistance. As I Watched the colour from his face slowly start to drain away unlike the water in the sink. It occurred to me that it was worth giving the plug hole a blast with the steam cleaner to see if it could dislodge what ever gunk was clogging up the drain. After scooping out most of the water that lay in the basin I braced my self, counted to 10 and blasted the plug hole with steam for around 5 minutes. The gurgling sound I heard was music to my ears, the small amount of water in the basin flowed down the plug hole,
        "hey presto "the blockage was no more.

        "Who needs a plumber when you have got an Electrolux Enviro Steam Gun Cleaner ", I shouted from the bathroom to Mr. T whilst doing a little jig. Ok I don't dispute the drain unblocking powder did the bulk of the work but I believe the blast of steam did the rest. Needless to say all the plug holes get a 5 minute blast of steam at least twice a week.

        *Angled Nozzle*

        Attached to the straight nozzle this is perfect for getting right under the rim of the loo, behind taps, and all those other difficult to reach areas, leaving no nook or cranny untouched.

        *Round Scrub Brush*

        Whilst the nylon bristles feel rather stiff, I have found they don't scratch the surfaces you use it on. Attached to the straight nozzle we have used this to clean grouting and also on tea and curry stained work tops (thanks to Master T.), not forgetting the shelves in our oven too. It will no doubt be used on the racks for the BBQ should it get an airing this summer, assuming we get one that is.

        *Flexible Extension Pipe*

        This needs to be attached to the machine without the straight nozzle. The remaining 3 accessories can then be attached depending on what it is you want to clean. (You can if you wish attach the scrub brush or angled nozzle too should you desire).

        *Window Cleaner*

        This is meant to be used for cleaning windows of course as well as mirrors and glass doors. I would imagine this would make light work when it comes to the cleaning glass doors on those walk in showers (sadly not something we have), of course this shouldn't be used on glass that is cold as the dramatic difference in temperature could well cause it to break (that's the glass by the way and not the machine) it does however work well on tiled areas too.

        *Fabric Tool & Cloth*

        Slip the elasticated edged cloth over the end and you are ready to steam clean clothing, curtains and upholstery (although it is not recommended to use this items made of velour). I tend to use this for steam cleaning our mattresses around once a month (don't want any bed bugs making themselves comfortable and taking up residence). It also came in handy when my new winter coat was splashed with dirty salty slush when a very ignorant driver of a "Chelsea tractor" drove way too fast and far too near the kerb whilst I was waiting to cross the road for a split second the air turned blue and it wasn't exhaust fumes!! . The mucky marks vanished almost as quickly as they had appeared.

        Getting started is simplicity it's self. Just make sure the machine is unplugged before slowly unscrewing the safety cap, once the hissing noise stops remove the cap completely then fill the chamber with water using the funnel and measuring cup provided. Replace the cap; plug the machine in, wait for the red indicator light to come on, it will then be ready to dispense steam in around 3 minutes; you can actually hear the water being heated. Slide the safety button on the handle downwards to unlock the appliance, and then point the steamer where you want and press the trigger. Should you be interrupted whilst steam cleaning simply take your finger off the trigger (obviously) and slide the safety button upwards to prevent steam from accidentally being dispensed ( very handy if you have young children around). Once you have finished your steam cleaning for the day and emptied any remaining water from the pressurised chamber you can wrap the cord round the cleverly designed base.

        This little machine produces heat and steam similar to that of a steam iron and is capable of reaching temperatures in excess of 200 °F, it is therefore important not to direct the steamer in one spot for an extended period of time.

        Given the temperature, it is obvious but important not to point this at people or animals. It is also advisable to allow the machine to cool for three minutes before refilling the water chamber should it be required. I have found we only need to refill the chamber once whilst cleaning the bathroom.

        You can use this steam gun to virtually steam clean everywhere around your home, only a few exclusions apply which are on cold glass, adhesive vinyl surfaces, velour upholstery and unsealed surfaces.

        I have read of people using steam cleaners to speed up the process when defrosting their freezers, but on checking the user manual that came with ours (freezer that is) it clearly states that the use of "steam cleaners or hair dryers" is NOT recommended as it could damage the appliance beyond repair. This may well work for some but is something I am not prepared to try as Mr. T. would have a heart attack if he had to fork out for a new freezer as well.

        Whilst this Electrolux Z355A Enviro Steamer is the same wattage as our old Vax, that is where the similarities end. We are more than pleasantly surprised at the level of steam produced and this has proved more than a match for what I thought was our sadly departed Vax. I have no qualms recommending this little powerful machine, especially as you can clean your home from top to bottom without the need for any of those nasty chemicals we all tend to be so fond of these days.

        **** Where Can You Get Yours ****

        As mentioned earlier there are numerous outlets including;-

        Tesco Direct £48.97
        Amazon £49.99
        Argos £48.99

        The above prices may differ slightly due to the recent VAT increase.

        © tune57 (previously posted by me on ciao with pictures)


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        • Asparagus Pea / Plant / 224 Readings / 207 Ratings
          More +
          30.12.2009 10:38
          Very helpful



          Unusual vegetable that looks very pretty in the garden

          I had never heard of the Asparagus Pea before and only came across it purely by chance whilst browsing a seed catalogue for suitable Kohl Rabi and Sweet Corn to grow this year.

          The Asparagus Pea, or Tetronoglobus Purpurea to give its Sunday name, is not something you are likely to find in the supermarket or local greengrocers. I adore Asparagus and as the UK season lasts only 8 weeks, rather than have to buy the imported stuff from Peru, I thought these may well be worth trying to satisfy my taste for Asparagus.

          They are not really a pea at all, but are in fact a vetch (that's a climbing plant with a bean like fruit for those not in the know), these are bushy plants bearing deep red flowers which appear in summer, followed by pale green curiously 4 sided shaped winged pods.

          Whilst they are not really that common in Britain, they can be found growing wild in southern European countries and arrived over here many years ago by accident with some imported grain. They are now cultivated in Western Europe almost exclusively as a connoisseur's vegetable.

          I decided to give these a try as they looked so pretty in the picture and I was also curious to find out if they did taste anything like Asparagus, as the name suggests.

          After purchasing a packet of these seeds from Marshalls Kitchen Garden catalogue for £2.45, I set some off in small pots of compost then placed them on a sunny window sill to wait for germination to take place. After 14 days, seedlings started to appear and continued to grow over the next few weeks. Once they were about 6 inches high, I moved them outside
          in to the cold frame until the end of May then finally planting half of them directly in the ground and the remaining plants in a large pot for the patio. Taking care to ensure they were well watered in dry weather, these plants became stronger as each day passed.

          By the second week of July they were around 12 inches high and beautiful dark crimson flowers had appeared, a week or so later the frilly looking pale green pods could be seen.

          The secret is to pick them whilst they are still quite small, no more than 1 inch long, as these taste sweet and crunchy, anything much bigger and they become bitter, tough and stringy.

          After keeping a watchful eye on their progress, my first harvest produced 15, of course I couldn't resist the temptation to sample one straight away and was rather surprised to find these curiously shaped pods were lovely and crunchy in texture and did in fact taste a little like asparagus.

          As their flavour is so delicate it's best to cook them as simply as possible avoiding the urge to add any dominant flavours like garlic. I simply sautéed them in a little melted butter and even refrained from adding my usual twist of black pepper as I felt it would spoil this delicate treat. Thumbs up all round and even though we only had a handful each for our first tasting, I was looking forward to my next harvest. I didn't have to wait to long either, as in the next couple of days another lot were ready to be picked, 25 this time which were eaten raw in a salad, again a very subtle asparagus like taste greeted the taste buds.

          My third picking (26) were thrown into a stir-fry at the last minute, as I wanted to retain the crunchy texture and sweet flavour and I am pleased to say succeeded in achieving this I have found that using the simplest of cooking methods is the best way to enjoy the pods.

          These pods contain small amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fibre and iron and are in my opinion a real gourmet treat.

          We are now in August and new flowers and pods are appearing each day, and are expected to do so at least until the end of the month, however if the weather is kind, this could continue until the first frosts appear.

          Whilst this is not a plant that produces a prolific crop, it is certainly worth considering if you want to grow something that will earn its space in the garden. You don't need to have a huge garden either as these would be ideal to grow in pots on the patio, in borders or perhaps to fill gaps left by spring flowering bulbs. They may succeed equally as well if grown as a pot plant indoors provided they are placed in a sunny spot and are certainly attractive enough to do so.

          They are very easy to grow and require very little attention, just water in dry weather, thus making it easy to "reap what you sow".

          As I have said earlier the UK asparagus season is indeed very short and whilst I appreciate this is not anything like the real McCoy, they have actually been a good substitute during the out of season months.

          I will certainly be growing some more next year, not only for their lovely attractive flowers but for the wonderful food produced too. There is also the added bonus being that as these are a member of the legume family (that's a pod of a plant of the bean or pea family), then the roots of the plant will add extra nitrogen into the soil, making it ideal for Brassicas next year..... Good news for my Kohl Rabi.

          These certainly make an attractive addition to any garden even if you don't eat the pods, but I think it would be a shame to grow something that is edible and not take advantage.

          Previously posted with pictures by me on ciao.


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          • More +
            18.10.2009 10:51
            Very helpful



            Get rewarded for something you do anyway.

            Imagine being rewarded for something most of us do at least once a week, I am of course, referring to shopping. Well this is what happens when you become a panel member of A C Nielson - Fact Finders.
            I received an email invitation from Toluna at the beginning of November 2008, and after answering a few questions on my shopping habits, family members etc.. I was informed that I had qualified should I wish to do so, to become a panel member for fact finders, which would involve scanning the items I bought on each shopping trip. An email arrived a couple of days later from A C Nielson asking me to complete another short survey , mainly to confirm the details I had previously given, plus the names and addresses of the Supermarkets I frequented most. I was also asked to supply a landline number as a member of their customer service team would need to contact me to arrange delivery of the equipment required to become a member. They rang me the very next day and arrangements were made for everything to be delivered by courier the following week.

            ***WHAT IS INVOLVED ***

            Well basically they want you to scan all the household items you buy from the Supermarket, any other shops like the Butchers, Chemist, Market, Internet, anywhere really, even things you buy whilst abroad. You scan the barcodes of the items as soon as possible after purchasing them and the information is sent to the Fact Finders Office via your telephone line once a week. It all seemed very simple and straight forward but there is a bit more to it than JUST SCANNING the barcodes, I will of course explain in more detail later. You are awarded points each month which can then be exchanged for goods.

            ***WHO ARE A C NIELSON ***

            The company was established in America back in 1923 by Arthur C Nielson Snr. And are now one of the largest businesses involved in Market research with operations in over 100 Countries. Whilst their Headquarters are in New York, they have a Head Office in Oxford (UK) and their Fact Finders team are based in Newport, South Wales.
            The idea behind Fact Finders is to gather information from a cross section of people so they can gain an insight into what us the consumer like and dislike. This information is then passed onto the Manufacturers and retailers so they can establish what is hot and what is not. It makes me wonder if manufacturers use such information when they decide to discontinue certain items.

            ***THE SCANNER ***

            This actually reminds me of my very first mobile phone except it is a lot lighter. It sits in a base unit which is plugged into the mains as well as your telephone line. It needs to stay there when you are not busy scanning. Mine has to live in the bedroom as it was the only place where we had a permanently empty socket available next to a telephone. It is important that the scanner is stored in the base unit when not in use for two reasons.
            1. It keeps the battery charged ready for scanning.
            2. As the base unit is connected to the telephone network, the details of the scanning you have done are transferred to the Fact Finders team via your telephone line once a week (in the early hours of Sunday Morning) the base unit automatically telephones their computer to transfer your weekly data. You are not charged for these calls as the base unit is programmed to dial a freephone number.

            Any other devices that may be connected to your telephone line such as Fax/answer machines, or digital satellite television should not be affected by the connection of the base unit and to date I confirm that we have not experienced any problems.
            As well as the scanner, base unit and all the connection wires you require, you also receive sent a very handy instruction booklet, plus another which has printed barcodes for products you may well purchase that don't have a barcode, this covers things like dairy products (handy if you buy bottles of milk from the milkman), bakery items (bread, cakes etc. from the bakers), fruit and vegetables (loose from the market, supermarket etc.), meat and poultry (butchers, supermarket) , savouries ( pies & pasties etc), fish, tea and fresh cut flowers and house plants. You will find that when scanning certain items that do have barcodes you are directed by the scanner to scan the relevant code from the book. This happens to me when I buy bread from the in store bakery at Tesco as well as fish from the pre packed fresh counter.
            I also received a copy of the Fact Finders monthly news letter. The instruction booklet also mentions a gift catalogue, but they no longer supply these as all the gifts can be viewed and ordered via their website.


            You are awarded 75 activity points each week plus an extra 100 at the end of each month. An additional 750 points are also awarded 8 weeks after joining. In order to receive your weekly and monthly points you must use the scanner every week, either to scan your shopping or to inform them that you are away on holiday or just haven't bought anything. I think it is worth pointing out that you DO NOT receive any more points by scanning everyday than you would if you only scanned once a week. Once you start scanning it certainly makes you realise just how much you are buying each week.
            You can earn extra points ranging from 500 to 1000 if your letter is published in the monthly news letter. The letters I have seen published are always related to some sort of scanning experience that someone has had or something similar. Every panel member is also entered automatically in to a monthly draw; prizes in the past have included BOSE Wave music systems, laptops, televisions, iPods, holidays and once a year a brand new car. My membership card was also included which shows details of my panel number and password for their website.

            ***SCANNING ***

            When you first switch the scanner on (after it has arrived) a simple download takes place, this updates the scanner with important files, whilst also checking that everything has connected properly.
            You can now have a practice scanning session by following the instructions in the booklet provided. I would certainly advise doing this as not only does it familiarise you with the scanner and the functions of the keys, it also gives you an idea of the extra information required for when you start scanning for real. (Things like the exact weight and price of the sausages you bought from the butchers etc...).
            You will find that you use the yellow, green and red keys the most.
            The scanner holds information of most (if not all) of the major stores as well as shops like butcher, baker, newsagent, farm shop, the list goes on, they do have basically everything covered even to the fact there is a store not listed option.

            The first time I scanned for real I felt both nervous and excited, even though I had a practice run, I still was not sure what to expect.
            I will now try to give you an idea now of what a typical scanning session involves; this should help you decide if it is something you want to do, should you get the chance to become a fact finders panel member, as there is a bit more to it than just simply scanning the bar codes of the items you have bought.

            After removing the scanner from the base unit and switching it on you are met with a number of options on the screen from which to choose.
            1. Purchases
            2. No Purchases
            3. Absence
            4. Survey
            5. Practice
            6. Manual Send ( use if the automatic send fails)
            7. Messages.

            As I am going to be scanning my shopping I use the arrow keys to highlight Purchases and then press the Green key.
            Another list of options appears.
            1. Today
            2. Yesterday
            3. 2 days ago
            4. 3 days ago
            5. 4 days ago
            6. 5 days ago.
            Again using the arrow keys select today and then press the green key to confirm.
            The next screen will contain the names of all your family members.
            1. Me
            2. Himself
            3. Son.
            Press the green key after selecting me. You will then be asked to select who accompanied the main purchaser. All the names appear again (apart from the main purchaser).
            1. Himself
            2. Son
            3. Nobody.
            In my case it is usually Himself, so I would use the number pad and press number 1, followed by the green key.
            The next screen asks you to select a store.
            1. Favourites
            2. Other stores.
            You will find that the favourites option is used most of the time. About a month after using the scanner this list not only contains a list of your most frequented stores but also has the addresses of them too.
            Using the arrow key select the store followed by the green button.

            All the above need to be carried out before you even start to scan your purchases.
            Hold the scanner about 5cms away from the bar code, press the yellow key and you will see a red beam covers the bar code followed by a beep sound. (If for some reason it doesn't beep, you may have to type in the numbers of the bar code followed by the green key)
            The barcode of the item appears on the screen and you are asked what quantity. Key in how many you bought followed by the green key.
            The next screen asks if it was on offer or promotion, this is answered by either pressing the green key (yes) or the red one (no), assuming you press green (yes) the following options appear on the screen.
            1. Extra Quantity
            2. Multibuy
            3. Price Reduced
            4. Any Other Offer.
            Using the arrow keys again, select the one that applies followed by the green key.
            Then you can scan your next item and so it goes on. When you have scanned all your purchases from that store press the ESC key, the screen will then ask if you have any more items to scan, answer this again with either a Yes (green) or No (red). This is normally a no (red key)
            The next screen will display the name of the store and ask for the receipt total. Key in the total amount you paid followed by the green button. You are then asked if a loyalty card was used, again this is a yes or no answer. The scanner now requires you to select a method of payment.
            1. Credit Card
            2. Debit Card
            3. Cash
            4. Cheque
            5. Loyalty card
            6. Voucher/ Coupon.
            Select the appropriate method followed by the green key.
            The scanner then asks if you need to scan another store, Yes or No answers required. Assuming you have selected no, then simply turn the scanner off and place it back in the base unit. If you have selected yes, then the whole process starts again, beginning with the VERY first screen.

            My first scanning session took over 20 minutes but now it only takes 5 to 10 depending on how much I have bought.

            Things can get a bit complicated if you buy something without a barcode or are asked to use a code from the book, as there tends to be more questions to answer. For example, the bread rolls from the in store bakery in Tesco have a bar code, but when you scan it you are asked to use a code in the book, there are a choice of 7 bar codes to chose from, so scan the one that applies, you are then asked if they were loose or pre packed, granary, soft grain, standard, wholemeal etc.. followed by the size, whether they were baked in store, how many you bought, although in this case if they are pre packed you would enter the number of rolls in the pack.

            I have found it is easier for the person who does the shopping, to do the scanning too. Things were rather hectic at home after a recent shopping trip and 17 year old son volunteered to do the scanning for me. He knew what it all involved as he has scanned items previously, usually chocolate & and sweets that he has bought and brought into the house, there has even been the occasional bunch of Tulips for me.
            As he started to scan the weekly shop, I had to answer his constant questions, was such and such on offer, is this organic etc. So don't think you can become a member and leave the scanning just to the kids as they may well need assistance. The information put into the scanner needs to be as accurate as possible otherwise it's a waste of time doing it. I have found the best way my son can help is by putting the shopping away once I have scanned it. (a little like working on a production line)

            It may appear to sound more trouble than it is worth but once you get the hang of it, it is very easy. If you do experience any problems you can always phone the help desk on the freephone number, who will advise you what to do, I have only had occasion to contact them once and that was in the beginning. I found them to be very helpful, polite and extremely efficient.

            ***POINTS MAKE PRIZES ***

            As I previously mentioned they no longer produce a paper gift catalogue as everything is now done online. (you do of course need your membership number and password to access this)
            In my humble opinion the website is not that well laid out, so finding out just what your points will get you is difficult. Instead of gifts being listed by points value, they are in fact under the categories, discover, play, exhilaration, relax, entertainment, indulgence, living and share. These then have sub categories to choose from too. Even when you select a category, the prizes are not listed by points value and several gifts appear in more than one category, which I find all a bit confusing.
            I have obviously browsed the online catalogue out of curiosity, to see what is available. I have selected a few items shown below to give you an idea of the kind of things that are on offer. There are a multitude of items for you to choose from, ranging from essential household items to the more luxurious.

            De Longie toaster 6500 points
            Braun electric tooth brush 2870 points
            CD 1800 points
            Salsa lesson 2300 points
            (1 hour lesson at various locations throughout the UK)

            Golf lesson 4600 points
            (30 minutes tuition at various clubs around the country)
            Theatre tickets 42850 points
            (Tickets to a west end show, an overnight stay in a 5 star Marriott or Renaissance hotel with dinner and breakfast for 2 on a Friday or Saturday night).

            There are numerous things to choose from the above is just an example, some will however take forever to save up for, considering you only earn 4800 each year just for scanning. I have decided to let my points mount up and haven't really thought about what I would exchange them for. There are new gifts added at regular intervals, so maybe something will catch my eye in the future.
            You receive a statement every month detailing your points together with a copy of the newsletter.

            I am not exactly sure whether you can apply to become a member or if it's by selection through surveys but if you fancy becoming a fact finders panel member , you could always send them an email to see if they have any vacancies in your area.


            Previously posted by me on ciao.uk with pictures.


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            • Phillips HR1851 Juicer / Juicer / 208 Readings / 201 Ratings
              More +
              25.09.2009 16:20
              Very helpful


              • Reliability


              Create the juice of your choice.

              I purchased this Phillips HR1851 Juicer from John Lewis back in May 2007 for £24.95, thinking it would help me achieve my 5 a day intake of fruit and vegetables, although of course I am aware that no matter how many glasses of juice you drink in one day it still only counts as one of the recommended five a day portions.

              The Juicer came in a large cardboard box, well packed again inside with even more cardboard to protect it in transit (no polystyrene in sight) On opening the box I first removed the paper instruction booklet together with a free paperback book written by Jason Vale titled "71b in 7 days Super Juice Diet", but a little more about that later.

              Out of the 81 pages in the instruction booklet only pages 1-9 were relevant to me as the remainder I assume covered the very same in various other languages ( 12 to be precise). The instructions are very clear and concise, firstly, pictures show the various loose parts and how they fit together along with the main motor unit. It also includes 10 juice recipe ideas to get you started.

              After washing these loose items in warm soapy water (as instructed) I began to assemble my machine. The main motor unit is white in colour and has a dial which controls the speed on the side, trimmed in a very subtle pale orange colour; the spout on one end is the same, there are also two arms either side of the machine which fold up to lock the lid in place. Next sits what they call a juice collector, (although this does not actually collect the juice), then inside this fits the metal filter. To finish the assembly a clear plastic lid complete with feeding tube sits neatly on top which is locked in place by moving the arms from the main motor unit up to the lid and simply clicking into place. The machine will not operate unless this procedure has been followed. There is a 1.5 litre capacity clear plastic bucket like container which fits at the rear of the machine (opposite end to the spout), this is the pulp collector and basically collects anything that isn't juice. The clear plastic 750 ml capacity juice jug with detachable foam separator then sits neatly beneath the spout to collect your juice as the machine is juicing. Failure to place this jug under the spout will result in a rather messy work surface as there is nothing to regulate the flow of the juice; it just goes straight into the jug.

              Using the foam separator in my opinion merely gives a thinner smoother texture and only comes into use effectively when you pour the juice from the jug into a glass.

              I prefer my juice a little thicker so I tend not to use the separator, either way what ever you choose there will be no bits in your juice as the bits stay either in the filter or are whizzed into the pulp collector.

              This machine has a 500watt motor and two speed settings 1(low) 2(normal)
              1. is for soft fruits and vegetables, things like grapes, strawberries, citrus, cherries, Kiwi, Melon, and Cucumbers etc.
              2. is suitable for firmer things like apples, carrots, pineapple, celery, broccoli and beetroot etc.

              It is also important to note that this machine can not accommodate whole fruits unless of course they are small (grapes, raspberries, and strawberries etc.) The feeding tube opening is rather small (3x1 inches) and is kidney shaped, so your chosen fruit and vegetables will also need to be cut into appropriate sized pieces.

              Hard skinned fruit and vegetables also need to be peeled and stones need to be removed where applicable ,it goes without saying anything unpeeled needs to be washed first. It is also worth mentioning that whilst Kiwis are considered to be soft it is worth peeling them too, as I have found leaving the skin on produces a rather bitter tasting juice.

              Almost any fruit or vegetable are suitable for juicing with the exceptions of Papayas, Mangos, figs and Bananas. This is because of their high starch content. You will need to use a blender or food processor for these if you choose to include them in your chosen juice recipe.

              You then feed your chosen produce down tube pressing it down gently with the pusher provided (taking care not to force it down). You can then select the correct speed and continue feeding in fruit or vegetables until either you've finished or your jug is full. Once done, turn the machine off at the dial and wait until the filter has stopped spinning before unlocking the lid, to dismantle and wash.

              Whilst compared to some, this is a very basic juicer and this is reflected in the price, however it is more than adequate for my needs, and I have no qualms recommending this model to anyone, especially if they are new to juicing, on a tight budget or just want something simple and easy to use.

              I don't use this every day, simply because I don't have the time, but it does see daylight 2 to 3 times a week, usually juicing enough to last a couple of days, which is kept fresh by storing in a glass, screw topped bottle in the fridge. It's best not to make too much to store as the juice does lose some of its nutrients over time. Apple juice will, as you might have guessed, turn brown also but you can slow the browning process down by simply juicing a lemon and adding this to it.

              The amount of juice produced from your chosen fruit or vegetables will obviously depend on its size, age and quality.
              For example, I usually buy a 2kg net of Juicing Oranges from Tesco; the last one I purchased cost £1.74 and contained 13 oranges.
              4 of these produced 15floz of juice.
              2 grapefruits yielded the same, whereas I needed 6 Kiwi for a similar amount.

              Whilst this model may seem a little on the noisy side whilst it's in operation, in my opinion it is no more than the level of a blender or food processor

              Once the juicing process is over it's time to wash the loose parts. These can be done in the dishwasher, although I do mine my hand (haven't got a dishwasher anyway, unless you count the hubby!).

              The mesh filter is probably the hardest of all; although I find running under warm water then brushing gently with a nylon bristled brush works a treat. (an old toothbrush is ideal for this). I have found it easier to line the pulp collector with a plastic bag, that way cleaning is as simple as just removing the bag containing the pulp. It's very rare that I have had to wash this container as the plastic bag has kept it clean. The pulp can then be either placed in your compost bin or disposed of with the rest of your household waste.

              The taste of home produced juice is in my opinion far more superior to the varieties available in the shops, it also has the bonus of being totally additive free. Juicing yourself gives you the opportunity to experiment and let your imagination run riot with your own wonderful or even weird concoctions.

              As for the free book I mentioned earlier, this seems to be the normal free gift with all the models of Phillips juicers. It is basically a 233 page paper back book written by Jason Vale, who is allegedly "The Juice Master", explaining how you could loose 71b in 7 days by following his super juice diet. Whilst I haven't read the whole book, I have digested enough to learn that for 7 days you have to survive on combination of homemade juices and smoothies. No solid type meals, no caffeine, no alcohol. Not only would I find this type of diet hard to stick to, I think it may also work out rather expensive too. The shopping list provided for days 1 to 3 includes 27 separate items which includes 35 apples, 3avocados, 2 trays of wheatgrass, 3 medium pineapples and alfalfa sprouts. Days 4 to 7 includes 22 separate items which includes, 41 apples, 4 large pineapples, plus most of the items listed for the first 3 days. It did make me wonder if it's not actually the juice and the smoothies that help with the weight loss but more the stress of having to buy all the ingredients required and carry them all home.
              Either way he claims he helped Jordan loose 2 stone in 3 months (WOW!! ) Somehow I doubt very much I will be following in her footsteps.

              Back to the Juicer, whilst I have already stated mine was purchased from John Lewis, it does not now appear to be available from them anymore either in store or online.

              It is available from Amazon for £32.61 (with free, super saver delivery). The Jason Vale book is not shown as being free in this case but can be purchased separately should you be intersted.

              Slightly updated of the original review posted by me on ciao.


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              • Mexicana Cheese / Cheese / 210 Readings / 203 Ratings
                More +
                17.09.2009 11:57
                Very helpful



                Hot Stuff.

                I often find my self craving spice, by that I don't mean anything in the confectionary line (also a Yorkshire term for sweets), In this case for me spice means spicy, I suppose something like a Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodle springs to mind, but as I tend to give things like that a wide berth, they aren't really an option.

                I am well aware that the supermarket shelves are full of weird (sometimes wonderful) flavoured crisps, snacks, salsas and dips, but I really wanted something a little healthier.

                My search for such came to an end when I spotted this Mexicana cheese on the deli counter in our local Tesco, spice without the guilt I thought.

                Mexicana is a wonderful, mild cheddar cheese spiked throughout with jalapeno, bell and chilli peppers, and orangey coloured cheese, speckled with red and green spicy delights, which certainly tastes as good as it looks.

                The piece I bought from the deli counter weighed 0.225kg and was priced up at £1.47 (£6.53 per kg) it had been cut and wrapped in store.

                Removing the clear film wrap instantly released the dominant aroma of chillies, almost strong enough to make your eyes water. Tasting this was indeed a delightful tongue tingling experience, the combination of the mild smooth creamy cheddar together with the fiery heat from the chillies, is in my opinion, a wonderful combination.

                Husband and son had a different reaction; theirs was more of an "Urgh chillies" followed by a swift glass of water. I shouldn't have been that surprised really at their instant dislike for this, as they do both tend to be a bit wimpish where chillies are concerned in such a great quantities.

                In my continued quest to "educate" their taste buds, I decided on a different approach, by first placing some of it grated in a bowl alongside the usual salsa, sour cream and guacamole the last time I made Fajita's. I was pleasantly surprised to see them adding this to theirs, but I can only assume they thought it was just the normal cheddar cheese I have used in the past, for they said nothing.

                My second test came when we were having baked potatoes for lunch (that's the twice baked kind.) where you bake your potatoes in the oven, then once the are cooked, remove them from the oven, cut open and carefully remove the potato flesh with a spoon and it place in a bowl, add some butter salt & pepper and grated cheese then mix together until it's well combined, before spooning the mixture back into your potato skins. Sprinkle a little more cheese on top then pop them on a baking tray returning the back to the oven until they are golden brown. This usually takes an additional 15minutes or so for a truly delicious lunch or snack. They won't turn out the same if you microwave them though, for this you really do need to use your oven even though they do take longer to cook it's certainly worth the wait. Another successful result and empty plates meant I could use this cheese even more and have since substituted the normal cheddar for this when making the sauce for cauliflower cheese and have also with great success included cubes of it in the centre of homemade beef burgers, as well as using it in a cheese and onion quiche, all of which have met with their approval.

                I do of course still enjoy it its " virgin" state when I have one of my spice cravings, even though it is powerfully fiery when eaten alone, you can easily temper the heat somewhat if you eat it with a cooling stick of celery or a crispy green apple.

                Mexicana is made by the Ilchester Cheese Company, who are also responsible for making over 50 other different cheeses including five counties and Applewood smoked which you may have already heard of.

                The Ilchester Cheese Company was formed back in the 1960's when its founder discovered the delightful delicious results he achieved when he combined cheese and beer in an attempt to keep the cheddar that sat in is hotel bar fresher for longer.

                I read with interest on their website that this caused quite a stir back then as when the cheese was launched 10 million teetotallers were asked to boycott it by the Temperance Council; this was regardless of the fact one would have to eat at least 201bs of the stuff to reach the equivalent of a pint of beer. How times have changed.

                Despite their early teething problems the company continue to cause excitement with new and wonderful creations, Mexicana being one of my favourites.

                You should be able to find this cheese without any problems as Ilchester Cheese Company supply all the major supermarkets in the UK either pre packed or on the deli counter, you will also find it in a number of independent stores too. It is available in 3 or 1.5kg wheels, 1kg blocks together with 150g and even smaller portions like the one I purchased and buy now.
                You may also find yourself in the lucky position of being able to taste this before you actually buy it from the deli counter.

                If you love the intensive heat and flavour that chillies give then you'll certainly enjoy this one. It is also suitable for chilli loving vegetarians too.

                Previously posted by me on ciao.


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                • Soapnuts / Household Cleaning / 190 Readings / 184 Ratings
                  More +
                  10.09.2009 09:51
                  Very helpful



                  Not just for your laundry

                  I first read about soapnuts sometime ago and made a mental note to check them out however my memory failed and I completely forgot all about it, until I came across reference to them in a book I recently read. Not wanting to let the grass grow I logged onto the inasoapnutshell website and ordered a free sample of them. Now I would like to stress they were not exactly free, as you have to pay postage, which can be done in one of two ways.

                  * Pay 75p through PayPal (this includes a 22p charge by PayPal)
                  * Send a SAE (the site states a 48p large letter stamp but on checking with Royal Mail these have gone up to 52p).
                  I opted for the PayPal method because it seemed a lot less hassle plus the fact it worked out cheaper when you consider you have to put a stamp on an envelope to send the SAE, which if my calculations are correct would cost you 82p (assuming of course you sent it first Class). Second class postage would cost you 42p for the large letter stamp and 27p to send it.

                  My sample arrived 10 days after ordering and I must admit I was rather excited at the prospect of trying these out. The envelope contained 8 loose half shells and a little single sheet leaflet giving instructions how to use them and a handy order form printed on the reverse. On the information given, I could expect to get at least 4 consecutive washes out of the set of shells I received. The shells were the colour of chestnuts, a little tacky to the touch and didn't really smell of anything. Curiously though, I did notice that the postage shown on the envelope was 37p, that and the 22p PayPal charge still only came to 59p, so perhaps I in fact paid 16p for the soapnuts themselves, either way it was still a bargain.

                  *~*What are soapnuts*~*

                  Soapnuts are natural biodegradable washing shells grown on the Chinese soapberry tree. They are not really nuts but are in fact berries which grow on 15 metre high Sapindus Mukorossi trees in India and Nepal. The shells contain Saponin which is a natural soap and have been used in India for centuries. The berries are sticky and golden in colour, which changes to a reddish brown not dissimilar to that of chestnuts and are harvested from the trees in October. The nuts are then cracked open and the black kernel inside is removed. This is inedible and of no further use except in the pharmaceutical industry although what for I haven't a clue. The shells which contain saponin, a natural detergent, are then packed into cotton bags and sent off to various companies who then in turn sell them to the public. As soapnuts are a natural product they do not contain any of the nasty harmful chemicals that are found in conventional detergents.

                  *~*How they work*~*

                  As mentioned earlier the shells (soapnuts) contain saponin, which produce mild suds when they come into contact with water (although not just any water, but more about that later). All you need to do is place between 6-8 half shells in a sock. Knot it so the shells don't escape then place in the washing machine with your laundry. (If you buy the nuts you will be provided with a little cotton drawstring bag which you can use instead of a sock.) Don't be tempted to use one of those little net type bags that come with the conventional washing tablets though or you may well find that what should be clean laundry is actually covered in little brown sticky bits. Set the washing machine going on your chosen programme then sit and wait to be amazed by the results.

                  It's worth pointing out that the soap is only released from the shells when they come into contact with water with a temperature of at least 30 degrees, (the lowest I used was 40 degrees), so, before you ask, no further soap is released when the machine goes through the rinse cycle, as the water temperature is usually below 30 degrees.

                  *~*My experience*~*

                  As mentioned before, my free sample consisted of 8 half shells, which with hindsight I should have just used 4 of them on my first wash, but hey ho excitement got the better of me and I used the lot. As previously stated I used a sock to keep these little fellas under control ( seem to have an ever increasing pile of odd socks these days, which I am glad I kept as I knew they would come in useful some day). Shells having been secured in knotted sock were placed in the washing machine. I do try to use the 30 degree wash cycle where possible as we have been encouraged to do so my the leading detergent suppliers and environmental groups as it helps combat climate change and saves about 40% energy per wash. However I have yet to be convinced that anything lower than 60 degrees is sufficient for things like towels, bedding and underwear (although not the delicate stuff). For me there is no contest as anything lower than 60 will not kill dust mites and bedbugs. (The lowest temperature I used whilst testing these nuts was 40)

                  * First Wash *

                  Towels washed at 60 degrees came out very soft and smelling fresh and clean, I was actually amazed at how soft they felt considering I had
                  refrained from adding the usual dose of fabric conditioner. They didn't smell of anything in particular and I can only describe the aroma as
                  "clean and fresh," The shells were soft to the touch and didn't feel as tacky as they had done before.
                  Don't expect to see a mass of soapsuds through the glass window on your machine though. I took a peek (well several actually) and was rather surprised not to see any. I started to wonder if they would in fact work.

                  ** Second Wash **

                  Using the same shells again (and the sock), it was jeans this time (4 pairs)
                  Using a 40 degree wash, these too emerged from the machine feeling soft and smelling clean and fresh. The shells felt soft and were not as dark in colour they had originally been.

                  ***Third Wash ***

                  Bedding , (sheets, pillowcases and duvet covers) using a 60 degree wash , again these emerged soft and smelling clean and fresh. Shells felt soft again and were paler in colour

                  **** Fourth Wash ****

                  Table linen carrying stains from a homemade tomato based sauce (used to make spaghetti bolognaise) using a 40 degree wash. My expectations were not exactly high at this point as I was now using the same shells for the 4th time however the shells did the business and the previously tomato splattered table cloth emerged from the machine not only feeling soft smelling clean and fresh but spotless too.

                  ***** Fifth Wash *****

                  Now this is where I thought I was really pushing my luck, white T shirts, vests and son's grubby white sports socks (he has a habit of venturing outside to the bin or to feed the birds with nothing on his feet except his socks.) All done on a 40 degree wash and came out; yes you've guessed it, spotless and fresh smelling too.

                  The shells by this time were much paler which I can only describe as a caramel sort of colour, they had also lost their tackiness and I came to the conclusion they were now exhausted and of no further use. I would like to point out that information I have read has stated the shells appear darker once exhausted, but mine in fact were definitely paler .
                  However having a "waste not want not" attitude I decided to see if there was any life (or should that be soap) left in them and set to work trying to make some liquid soap.

                  Having released all the shells from the sock I placed them in a saucepan with a pint of water, brought it to the boil then let it simmer gently for about 15 minutes, after which I let it cool before straining the liquid into a glass jar. The shells were then put in the compost bin as they had well and truly served their purpose.
                  The liquid was a very pale brown in colour (I dare say it would be much darker if fresh shells were used) and would of course be more concentrated.

                  I used some of the liquid to hand wash some gloves and scarves which I had taken out of hibernation ready for the cold days ahead, which worked beautifully and the remainder to wash out the fridge, and wipe down kitchen work surfaces and cupboard doors.
                  The 75p spent to get the 8 half shells allowed me to do 5 consecutive washes plus the added bonus of a hand wash and some household cleaning too. Of course soapnuts do not contain fragrance so they will not leave any perfume on your laundry. If you want to carry the eco theme further you could always add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to the dispensing drawer or pop some drops on a handkerchief and put it in with the rest of the laundry. If you miss the fragrances achieved by fabric softeners then by all means carry on using them but I didn't miss it one bit. I still have a supply from when I stocked up after seeing it on promotion that is now sat gathering dust. No doubt they will be used when I wash the delicate winter woollies that are now seeing daylight again as I do things like jumpers and sweaters to smell fragranced.

                  I am told you can expect to get between 4 and 6 consecutive washes from one lot of soapnuts (using 6 half shells), although this does depend on the softness of your water and the temperature you use. I managed to achieve 5 (excluding liquid soap) using two different temperatures from my one set of 8 half shells. (I might add that we live in a soft water area).
                  Being more than impressed with the results I wasted no time in placing an order for a 500g bag of soapnuts at a cost of £7.00 (including postage) from the same company that supplied the free sample. The contents of this 500g bag should allow me to achieve at least 300 consecutive washes if I use the same 6 half shells 4 times. It sounds impressive doesn't it?
                  My order arrived 12 days later and I found my self very eager to get using them again.

                  *~* What I got for my money *~*

                  The envelope contained a cotton drawstring bag full of 500gs worth of soapnuts (165 whole nuts, yes I counted them), partly split and ready to be snapped in half, there was also a small cotton drawstring bag for use in the washing machine.
                  I was curious to see how using different temperatures affected just how many consecutive washes could be achieved from each set of 6 half shells and decided to have 2 sets on the go at the same time. One for 60 and the other for 40 degree washes. I even used different coloured socks so as not to get them confused. My findings were as follows.
                  6 half shells using a '''60''' degree wash achieved 4 very successful consecutive washes.
                  6 half shells using '''40''' degree wash achieved 6 extremely successful consecutive washes. Proving that the temperature you use affects the life and effectiveness of the shells and yes each set of shells appeared to look paler in colour once they were exhausted.

                  As previously mentioned these are a natural product and therefore do not contain any environmental nasties such as chemicals and optical brighteners', so whilst they are kind to your skin and your wallet, they won't fade your coloureds, although the continued use of these on whites may require a little extra help to keep your "whites" white. This can be achieved by simply adding laundry bleach to the wash or a cup of borax to the dispensing drawer of the machine. I however just alternate between the shells and standard detergent which seems to do the trick.
                  Heavily soiled/stained items may also require pre treatment and the use of fresh shells to achieve optimum results.

                  There is not only the environmental issue to consider here but perhaps more important in the current climate the financial benefits. I for one will save a small fortune having switched predominantly to these soapnuts. Considering I found myself paying £5.49 for my pack of 20 Bold Liquitabs (which gives 20 washes) working out at 27p per wash, I achieved 5 washes from the free sample for just 75p. You don't have to be a mathematician to work out the benefits. So you can help the environment and your bank balance too.

                  *~* Where to buy *~*

                  There are several places you can purchase your own set of nuts, just Google soapnuts and you will be spoilt for choice and as you'd expect prices do vary.

                  I bought mine from www.inasoapnutshell.com, this is also where you can request a free sample. A 500g bag costs £7.00 whilst a 200g bag comes in at £4.00 both prices include postage.

                  If you are lucky enough to have a Lakeland store (there are 39 dotted around the country) close by then you can purchase a 250g box for £5.99 or visit their website and order online at www.lakeland.co.uk but please be aware orders under £49.99 carry a delivery charge of £3.95.
                  You will also find them on eBay and Amazon, plus various other sites too.

                  *~*Other uses *~*

                  These soapnuts are not just effective in the washing machine. If you make up some liquid soap as I have previously detailed, this can be used
                  in a number of ways including.
                  *Cleaning Jewellery - just leave to soak in the liquid rinse then polish when dry.
                  * Household cleaning, clean the house from top to bottom including the windows,
                  * I am told the liquid is good for washing pets as it said to remove parasites from fur and skin, leaving the animals fur clean, soft and protected from further infestations.
                  *Use to wash the car, rinse off then polish when dry. (Have yet to convince Himself on this one)
                  *Add around 4 half shells to the bottom of the cutlery drawer in the dishwasher and some vinegar to the rinse aid drawer for sparkling clean plates and glasses. Although I am told they don't fare so well on items with baked on food (haven't tried this as I don't own a dishwasher)
                  *Wash your hair with the liquid (I haven't tried this but a friend of mine has and she wasn't that impressed with the results)

                  As you can see you can certainly get your monies worth (and more) from these. If you haven't put them through their paces yet I'd certainly recommend you give them a go.
                  I think it is worth pointing out that inasoapnutshell have been assured by their suppliers that everyone involved in the production of their soapnut shells are all paid fairly and no child labour is involved.
                  As mentioned previously these are not actually nuts but I'm sure for some the mere mention of the 'n' word will no doubt send some with allergies running for cover. I am pleased to report that a very dear friend of mine has such an allergy as well as recurring bouts of eczema and has been using soapnuts for the last 6 months or so with no ill effects.

                  Previously posted by me on ciao with pictures.


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                  • Vax V-084 / Vacuum Cleaner / 161 Readings / 156 Ratings
                    More +
                    03.09.2009 10:50
                    Very helpful


                    • Reliability


                    Gives your thumb a good workout.

                    I had seen various hand held steam cleaners advertised when my son went through a (very annoying) phase watching those TV shopping channels and have to say that I was suitably impressed with the results they seemed to achieve.

                    Looking at the somewhat tired and sleepy appearance of our bathroom tiles and grouting, my memory took me back to those adverts and I started to wonder if a steam cleaner could be just the solution to wake them up.

                    Whilst on a shopping trip to B&Q, I noticed they were selling 1200 watt Vax V-084 hand held steam cleaners for £29.99. It looked like the answer to our problems and as I had a voucher for the shop, I wasted no time popping one in the trolley.

                    There are various attachments included which, on reading the instruction booklet, gave me the impression my life would somehow become easier when it came to shifting the grime and lime that tends to accumulate, especially in the bathroom.

                    Cleaning the grouting in the past with an old tooth brush and some diluted bleach had been a long, arduous, arm aching task but not anymore, or so I thought.......!

                    ~~ Attachments ~~

                    There are six in total, each designed for a particular purpose, details of which can be found below.

                    ***Long Nozzle ***

                    This adds extra length (obviously) and is the one I use when cleaning the grouting between kitchen and bathroom tiles, kitchen work surfaces and around the taps on the kitchen and bathroom sinks You can also attach the other attachments to this. It's amazing when you think something is clean and then find out that it isn't. This came to light for me first blasted our kitchen work surfaces, I was rather shocked to see the difference in the colour after they had been steam cleaned as they looked so much brighter and almost like new.
                    I don't own a dish washer (unless you count the hubby), so all my chopping boards get blasted with steam too.

                    ***Angled Nozzle***

                    This can be attached to aim in 6 directions and is brilliant for getting into awkward corners. I use this for getting right under the rim of the loo and around the hinges on the seat and lid.

                    ***Nylon Brush ***

                    This one is designed for use on coarse surfaces (so definitely not one for anything delicate). I use this to blast the cooking racks on the BBQ just before it goes away for the winter and again when they see daylight in summer. It also works a treat on my oven shelves too.

                    ***Upholstery Tool***

                    Now I am unable to comment how this works on upholstery as we have leather sofas and chairs and I somehow think they wouldn't appreciate being blasted with steam every once in a while. I have however used it on our mattresses with great success after they have been vacuumed, just to make sure there are no bed bugs setting up house.

                    ***Cotton Cloth ***

                    This is designed to pop over the Upholstery tool to clean your furniture; I use this when blasting the mattresses.

                    ***Window Squeegee ***

                    This clips onto the Upholstery tool and as the name suggests is for
                    "Cleaning Windows ". (All though not on cold ones as the heat from the steam could crack the glass). I use this with great success on the bathroom tiles around the shower and bath area once a week then buff with a soft dry cloth it really does leave tiles sparkling without the need for any nasty chemicals.

                    ~~ How it works ~~

                    Not wanting to state the obvious or even insult your intelligence, you do need water and electricity of course. There is a release button on the water chamber reservoir which you need to press to release it from the main body of the machine; this is very easy to do. Once you have separated the two sections, simply remove the cap from the water reservoir, fill with water (it holds 0.5 litres) using
                    the plastic measuring cup provided, replace the cap then attach the water reservoir to the main body again and you are almost ready to start blasting your grimy areas with steam. Plug into the mains, wait around 60 seconds for the water to heat, then it's time to start steam cleaning. It is worth pointing out that only water should be used, you should not add perfume, detergents or de-scaling products to the water reservoir as this could cause damage to the machine.

                    Sounds simple doesn't it!!

                    To release the steam you need to depress and hold the rocker type steam button, the problem is you need to keep it depressed while ever you want any steam to be released although steam will continue to be released for around 30 seconds after you release the button, so take care it isn't pointing at anything it shouldn't once you take your thumb of the button. The machine makes a sort of buzzing sound whilst it's in action, but it's not really noisy or offensive in any way. It has a 5 metre cable which is ideal for us when using in the bathroom as we can use a plug socket on the landing
                    ( no need to use an extension cable here).

                    When we first used this to wake up our tiles and grouting in the bathroom it wasn't exactly easy. The fact you have to keep the steam release button pressed all the time certainly puts extended pressure on the old thumb...... hence my title, So what we first thought could be achieved in half an hour or so, actually took nearer two hours and that was between the two of us so we could give our digits a well earned rest. Still it was a lot quicker than the old toothbrush and bleach method and also eliminated the need to use any toxic chemicals.

                    Hindsight is a wonderful thing had I had it back in 2006 when this machine was purchased I would have probably done a bit more research before making a decision in purchasing this steam cleaner, had I know then that you had to keep the old thumb on the steam release button throughout the whole cleaning process, then I would have certainly looked for an alternative steam cleaning machine.

                    Having truly woken up the grout between the bathroom tiles we do blast them once or twice a month, just so they keep that "Just tiled look ". It doesn't take that long and I would hate them to fall into a deep sleep again.

                    Now this machine isn't brilliant but it is good for general cleaning or when you just want peace of mind around the loo or sink, it only weighs 1.9kg so it is by no means heavy or cumbersome to use.
                    Anything that requires major attention then I would advise looking for something that requires a lot less pressure on the thumb. It is adequate and serves its purpose for me and is still going strong 3 years on.

                    Replacement attachments can be bought should they be required from www.vax.co.uk for £2.93 each.

                    This machine is no longer available from B&Q instead they stock the latest model from Vax, it is however at the time of writing currently available from Amazon for £29.00.

                    Previously posted by me on ciao with pictures


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                    • More +
                      23.08.2009 11:28
                      Very helpful



                      Highly Reccommended

                      ~*~ BACKGROUND~*~

                      We had decided to have a couple of days away to celebrate our Wedding Anniversary and had chosen to visit Oxford, Why Oxford I hear you ask? , well apart from it being a beautiful city, then I can answer that in two words Inspector Morse , which was of course is filmed in and around Oxford and just happens to be one of my favourite television programmes.

                      We set about browsing the various online booking sites to check hotel availability for our chosen dates.
                      Having settled on using lastminute.com we were pleased to find at least 10 hotels were listed, all in different price ranges, and offering various facilities
                      We chose the Oxford Belfry, not only for their competitive prices but it its location sounded ideal for our needs. For two nights Bed and Breakfast (for 2) we paid £110.00 (plus £1.38 credit card charge) which we both felt to be more than reasonable for this 4 star hotel.

                      ~~~ THE HOTEL~~~

                      The Oxford Belfry, is situated very close to the M40 making it very easy to find. A 4 star hotel with 154 Bedrooms set in 17 acres of Oxfordshire countryside. It has just benefited from a £4.5 million refurbishment of the public areas (I understand some of the guestrooms are to be refurbished later in the year). The hotel is part old and part modern, the original building once known as Brimpton Grange dates back to the 19th century and it is said to have been the home at one time to the French Ambassador. The extensions have been very tastefully carried out so as to not lose the original charm; there is free parking for 200 cars, with a separate secure key pad controlled barrier exit. There are large signs reminding you of this in the entrance to the hotel, but should you forget to get the number from the receptionist then fear not for there is also an intercom located at the barrier too, not that we forgot to ask, himself has a memory like an elephant when it suits.

                      There are two entrance doors at the front of the hotel, one the revolving type, whilst the other is designed for disabled access with automatic opening at the push of a button.
                      The reception area is large, light and very airy, very tastefully decorated with a long reception desk on the left hand side. We were acknowledged with eye contact and a friendly smile before receiving a friendly "Good Afternoon" from the young lady on reception. Checking in was simplicity itself, as we had already paid in advance, we were not pressed to leave details of our credit card, but were given the option of doing so together with the choice of paying cash for any extras we might have. Knowing himself is a "typical Yorkshire man" (very careful with his brass), I knew he had no intention of parting with any money in the Hotel Bar or on room service, so his credit card stayed put in his wallet alongside the family of moths that hadn't escaped when he removed his credit card to pay at the time of booking. We were then asked if we required a wake up call or any help with our luggage (both of which we declined) before being given our key (the card type) and directions to our room.

                      Our room was located on the ground floor so we had to need no use the stairs or lift and it was very easy to find along the long wide corridors. We concluded on reaching our room that we were at the back of the hotel.

                      ~~~ THE ROOM~~~

                      I have never been any good at opening doors with these card things (give me an old fashioned key any day), but even himself had problems too using it for the first time. Luckily for us a member of staff was about to enter a room a couple of doors away to change towels and swiftly, without being asked, came to our aid.
                      Once inside we were both pleasantly surprised at the size of the room bearing in mind we had only booked one of their standard guestrooms. The bathroom was located on the right hand side, which contained a bath (with shower type mixer taps), basin, toilet and walk in shower. Everywhere was spotless and very well maintained; amongst the usual complimentary toiletries were 2 boxes of soap, shower cap, and small plastic bottles containing shampoo, conditioner and foam bath. Towels were soft, fluffy and white; there was also a rubber, non slip, bath mat plus a floor mat too. Suitably impressed we ventured further into the room. Directly opposite the bathroom was the wardrobe with ample space and hangers, above it on the shelf were extra pillows and blankets whilst below on the floor sat an electric fan. To the left of the wardrobe there was a suitcase ledge, whilst to the right on a shelf sat the tea and coffee making facilities, (which included 2 packets of chocolate biscuits too) beneath this shelf there was a mini fridge. Directly opposite this a cupboard hid a trouser press, iron and ironing board.

                      As I have previously mentioned, our room was indeed spacious and decorated tastefully in a calming cream colour, it coordinated perfectly with the terracotta coloured bedding, curtains and carpet. Besides the obvious bed (which was much firmer than we were used to, but extremely comfortable) there were two bedside tables with drawers, one of which contained a sewing kit, shoe mitt (to shine your shoes) as well as the obligatory bible. A large desk housed a welcome pack containing all the information you are likely to need regarding the hotel during your stay, a room service menu and a connection for internet access ( I understand you have 2 hours free use during your stay). The TV with access to some satellite channels (mainly sport) sat on top of a chest of drawers and a cleverly placed dressing table was located in the corner (underneath it's shelf is where the powerful 2 speed hair drier lived) A very comfortable easy chair and a large coffee type table, plus numerous lamps gave this room that cosy home from home feel.
                      Having made and enjoyed a much needed cup of coffee, we decided to head off to the leisure facilities in search of the pool, sauna and steam room.

                      ~~~ REFLECTIONS - HEALTH, FITNESS AND SPA ~~~

                      This is another of the areas that have benefited from the recent refurbishment, all the areas we came into contact with were clean, bright and well maintained. After collecting our fluffy towels from the spa reception, we headed off to our respective changing rooms, after arranging to meet at the poolside. I obviously can't comment on the Gents facilities but I assume from the description I was given from himself they were virtually the same as the ladies. A large communal area for changing with wooden lockers adorning the walls, 3 showers (in private cubicles, all with large plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel) 2 hand basins again with complementary soap and moisturiser, a large shelf with 2 hair driers and mirror above. I did notice though whilst having a nosey there was in fact a small private changing cubicle tucked away in the corner. There was also a spin drier type machine, so you could remove any excess water from your swimming attire.
                      A door from the changing rooms' leads directly into the wet area, the pool, sauna, steam room and experience shower.

                      ~~ Pool ~~

                      Whilst compared to some this at only 12.5 meters is somewhat small in comparison, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the deep end wasn't that deep so much so I could stand up in it. All areas around the pool were again spotless and the water was lovely and warm. We used the pool on two occasions during our stay and virtually had it to ourselves each time.
                      The same could be said for the sauna and steam room. It is however worth bearing in mind the rules in place for using these facilities as children under 16 are not allowed in the pool without an adult, nor are they allowed to use the sauna or steam room at anytime. There is no life guard on duty, but I did notice there was several panic type buttons placed on the wall around the pool side.

                      In addition to the above mentioned, there are 7 treatment rooms where you can enjoy a wide range of spa treatments from facials to massages, which of course incur additional costs and have to be booked in advance to avoid disappointment. A well appointed gym, furnished with state of the art equipment beckons those wanting some strenuous exercise (although under 18's are prohibited from using this facility). There are also 2 all weather tennis courts (equipment can be hired with a £10.00 deposit) and a croquet lawn too. Golfers can enjoy reduced green fees at the nearby Oxfordshire Golf Club subject to availability (and no, before you ask, himself didn't take his clubs)

                      ~~ RESTURANT AND BAR~~

                      The Oxford belfry offers a choice of a la carte dining in the Rycote restaurant or light snacks and drinks in the Isis Bar, there is also room service too of course.
                      The Restaurant is open daily for breakfast and dinner, whilst the Isis bar serves food and drinks through out the day.
                      Married to a frugal Yorkshire man (or some might even say tight) we only ate breakfast in the hotel as we felt the prices in the restaurant and bar were on the expensive side, for example starters ranged from £5.95,- £6.95 main courses £12.95 - £18.95 and desserts £6.00, - £7.50, yes at first they did appear steep to us northern folk but after further investigations looking at menus in restaurants in Oxford and the nearby village of Thame, they weren't much dearer than them. It is worth noting though that should you book the hotel on a bed, breakfast and dinner basis, anything you choose over the sum of £25.00 carries a supplement.

                      Breakfast, (the most important meal of the day) is served from 7am -9.30 Monday to Friday and 8am -11am Weekends. The restaurant is decorated again very tastefully, wooden beech coloured tables are spaced well apart. The choice of food on offer is phenomenal with something to tempt even the fussiest of eaters. Having been shown to our table we were asked by our friendly waitress what we would like to drink (the menu on the table lists all the options from a wide variety of teas, coffees, hot chocolate etc...) and within minutes of sitting down a steaming pot of coffee was placed on our table, jugs containing milk were already there.
                      Service is help yourself at breakfast but you can if you wish, request table service, which I am sure, would be of great help to disabled guests.
                      As mentioned before, the choice is extensive even with the juices (orange, apple, grapefruit, cranberry and tomato with a bottle of Tabasco to spice it up should you wish .

                      There was also an ice bucket containing bottles of chilled mineral water too. Cereals are again wide in choice and you can also request porridge if you wished. Fresh fruit, yoghurts, pastries, breads and cheeses offer an alternative to the traditional English breakfast. There was nothing missing from this either, bacon, sausage ( vegetarian ones too), baked beans, black pudding, scrambled eggs, fried bread, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns and fried eggs cooked to order, phew !!, you could also request your eggs boiled or poached even. Like the fried eggs, toast was done to order with a choice of brown or white bread.

                      If you are only booked in on a room only basis then taking advantage of this feast would set you back £10.00 for the continental style food or £ 15.00 for what they call the Classic Q which gives you a choice of everything on offer.

                      You also have the option for an additional £3.50 (which applies to everyone) to order something a bit more special like Scottish Smoked Whiskey kippers, eggs Benedict or scrambled eggs with smoked salmon.

                      The food we ate could not be faulted in any way; it was piping hot and was of obvious good quality. The scrambled eggs in particular were the best I have tasted in a long while, deliciously creamy and seasoned to perfection. Had I not wanted to appear greedy I would have loved to have gone back for seconds.

                      My only small gripes are that whilst the food was piping hot, the plates were cold, we concluded that this could have been due to the fact that on both occasions we ate just after 7am and the plates hadn't had long enough to warm through. My second is the Milk, why do people assume that everyone uses semi skimmed milk? We first thought it was just the coffee that was strong but having made coffee in our room from the little sachets provided we notice that the milk also was semi skimmed and we ended up using 2 cartons in each cup rather than just the one that would have sufficed had it been the full fat kind.

                      We didn't drink in the bar, but I did manage to have quick look at the list on the bar that displayed the prices. Again these were almost on a par with the pubs in Oxford and Thame, with a pint of beer costing £ 3.80 and a half of lager £1.80.
                      ~~~ USEFUL INFORMATION ~~~

                      The hotel is situated close to the village of Thame and the M40 which makes it an ideal base for visiting nearby attractions such as the City of Oxford, Silverstone, Blenheim Palace, The Vale of Aylesbury, Bicester shopping village, and Legoland at Windsor to name but a few.

                      There is also a wonderful park and ride facility in place just a 10 minute drive away where you can park your car for free then catch a bus into Oxford for a return fare of £2.20 (Over 60's travel free with those new passes) You can also catch one that goes into London Too.

                      This Hotel is one of the largest conference and event venues in Oxfordshire and has 17 conference and meeting rooms, offering space for up to 450 delegates, indeed there were a number of these rooms in use at the time of our stay.

                      Check- in time is 2pm, whilst check- out is 11am.
                      No pets are allowed except for guide dogs.
                      The hotel accepts all major credit cards.
                      Rooms vary in price, Single rooms range from £60- £80 whilst doubles are from £80 - £100, obviously more if you upgrade to one of their deluxe rooms. Shop around for the best deal.

                      As with most hotels now this is non smoking in all indoor areas, but there are two beautiful courtyards with tables and chairs where the smokers can go or the terrace where you can sit in pleasant surroundings and enjoy a drink if the weather permits.

                      We found the hotel very easy to find without any super satellite navigation system, just me with a map on my knee was all that was need to get us there.
                      From the North (Bicester, Birmingham, Mancester.M42, M6) exit M40 at Oxford Services junction 8/8A. At slip road roundabout take exit signposted A418 to Aylesbury. After about half a mile turn right onto the A40 to Milton Common and Wallingford. The Oxford Belfry is situated 1 ½ miles along on the left hand side.
                      From the South (London, High Wycombe) exit M40 at junction 7, turn right following the A329 towards Thame. Immediately after crossing over the motorway, turn left onto the A40. The Hotel is situated 300 yards on the right hand side.
                      The nearest Airport is London Heathrow, whilst the train station is only 5 miles away at Thame.

                      ~*~ CONCLUSION ~*~
                      I must say that we were suitably impressed with the hotel as a whole; the staff whilst attentive were by no means intrusive. We did have occasion to request extra supplies of milk and coffee on our first day and called at reception on our way back to our room after using the pool. We had only just walked into our room when there was a knock at the door from the porter who came laden with extras of everything.

                      The TV in our room may not be of the standard some have come to expect but it was more than adequate for our needs. After all we didn't go away to watch television, although I did manage to catch the tail end of an episode of Inspector Morse whilst relaxing with a coffee after spending a lovely day in Oxford and himself caught up with the sport whilst I was getting ready to go out for our evening meal.
                      This hotel would without doubt be my first choice when we visit Oxford again and I can not recommend it highly enough. (And no himself will NOT be taking his golf clubs next time either, well not unless he wants me spending a small fortune in the spa).
                      All in all this is an excellent hotel with superb facilities and staff and I defy even the pickiest of guests to find fault.

                      *** Previously posted on ciao by me with pictures under the same user name.***


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                      • Eco Balls / Household Product / 212 Readings / 203 Ratings
                        More +
                        09.08.2009 20:27
                        Very helpful



                        Do your laundry the Eco way.

                        My mum gave me this set of Ecozone Ecoballs after she had received them as a gift. She asked me to try them out to see what I thought about them, knowing I like trying out new products. The box contained 3 Ecoballs, 3 refill packs, 45ml tube of Ecozone stain remover and a very handy instruction leaflet. Apparently the contents of the box allow you to do 1000 washes based on a 30 minute cycle in the washing machine. (The balls with pellets last up to 750 washes and the refills included provide an additional 250 washes) Those in hard water areas may achieve a lower amount. Just to let you know we live in a soft water area and a 60°c wash takes 1 hour 30 minutes in my machine, so I was interested to see how these perform

                        *** WHAT ARE THEY ***

                        Ecoballs are an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional washing detergents. Ecoballs are exactly that "Balls", made of plastic and green in colour with a sponge ring around them, making them resemble a UFO or Saturn (that's the planet not the Roman god of agriculture). I'd say they are about the size of a tennis ball (discounting the sponge ring). Each ball is filled with small round white and brown (more white than brown) pellets. These pellets do not contain soap, so they are kinder on the environment, your clothes and your washing machine. Because there is no soap present means you could actually save energy and water as you can dispense with the rinse cycle, that's assuming you have the facility on your machine to do so. The fact they don't contain any harsh chemicals suggests they are extremely good to use if you have sensitive skin. Not only are they hypo allergenic ( approved by Action Against Allergies in the UK ) but also have antibacterial properties too which kill Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus Aureus because the pellets raise the water PH to higher than 10 and such bacteria is only active in a PH of between 6 and 8.
                        You can use Ecoballs in all washing machines including top loaders and twin tubs; however you will need extra balls when using industrial sized machines. Apparently you can cut your laundry bills by 80% using Ecoballs. Ecozone advise that it is not possible to use water softener tablets whilst using the balls. They are rather tactile and attractive looking, but as the manufacturers advise, they are not toys and should be kept out of reach of animals and children.

                        **HOW THEY WORK**

                        By placing all three Ecoballs in the machine on the top of your laundry, the pellets set to work by ionising the oxygen in the water which then penetrates the fibres of your laundry to lift the dirt away without fading colours or damaging delicate fabrics. They also expand the fibres of the fabrics as they wash, which in turn softens your laundry without the need to use fabric softeners or conditioners.
                        It's important to point out that the maximum temperature recommended when using these is 60°c, anything higher would probably result in damage to the balls and a reduced life span, for this reason you MUST not use them in your tumble drier either.
                        For maximum effectiveness it is advised to reduce the amount of laundry you do each time as the Ecoballs need room to move around in the machine. Whilst you can save energy and water by cutting out the rinse cycle, I do feel that any such saving would be somewhat negated, as you end up splitting what was once one load of washing into two. I certainly found this to be so when one lot of bedding had to be washed in two loads so the balls could be accommodated accordingly.

                        The balls can be used continually throughout the same day, but it is advised that they are not left in the machine with wet washing any longer than necessary once the machine cycle has ended. Once you have finished your laundry for the day, be sure to remove the balls and allow them to dry before using them again another day.

                        If you miss the smell of your usual fabric conditioner then you can still use it but you are advised ( if your machine has a rinse hold function) to remove the balls before adding such to the dispensing drawer, by doing this you are removing any risk of chemicals coming into contact with the pellets inside the balls.

                        The pellets will decrease in size over time, when they reach the size of a match head, feel much lighter in weight or they no longer appear to be effective, then this is when you need to use the refills to replenish the Ecoballs. Although mine are not ready to be re filled I did follow the instructions, not only out of curiosity, but also to inform readers what exactly is involved. Firstly you need to remove the sponge ring, then using a Phillips screwdriver remove the stainless steel screw, turn one half of the ball one way and the other half in the opposite direction (I found this very easy to do) don't remove the pellets in the ball, just simply top up using a bag of refills for each ball. According to the instruction leaflet you should only need to top up after 750 washes (they estimate this as taking 18 months) After you have topped up using the refills included in the pack you can purchase extra refills (usually from the same place you bought your initial pack), which are in turn, designed to replace the remaining pellets left in the balls. Providing the outer casings of the balls are still intact and undamaged you can continue re filling for as long as necessary.
                        When the pellets have worn out, probably around the time you need to purchase refills, any remaining pellets left in the balls should be disposed of in your general household waste. They are biodegradable, so will not be contributing to landfill, nor be harmful to the environment.
                        The little round pellets contain the following active ingredients:-
                        Calcium Carbonate 30%, Anionic Surfactants 25%, Sodium Carbonate 17% and Sodium Metasilicate 4%
                        There are no toxic chemicals, harsh detergents, petrochemicals or animal testing involved in this product.

                        The stain remover included in the set contains Aqua, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Silicate, Sodium Dodecylbenzene sulfonate, Sodium Citrate, Zeolite and Sodium Hydroxide. There is no presence of Phosphates or fragrance and it has not been tested on animals.

                        **My EXPERIENCE **

                        I started using these in the middle of November 2008, firstly on a batch of towels which were placed in the machine along with the three Ecoballs using my usual (for towels)
                        60 °c wash. During the cycle I did notice a lot of "clanking" emitting from the machine, (it reminded me of the sound it used to make when I used to wash son's school trainers). I wasn't that surprised as I had expected some noise considering there were 3 plastic balls albeit with a sponge ring around them flinging themselves around in the drum. Cycle over, the towels emerged soft and smelling fresh. I would point out though that there were no visible marks or stains on them when they went into the machine so at this stage I was unable to pass judgement on the effectiveness of the balls to some degree.
                        Since my first en counter using Ecoballs , I have done over a 100 washes using varying temperatures from as little 30° right up the maximum of
                        60 °c (for towels and bedding), all of which have achieved mixed results.
                        They worked perfectly well on their own (and still do) on mud splattered Jodhpurs and muddy golf trousers, both of which seem to be regular weekly visitors to the washing machine these emerge fresh smelling, clean and soft.(without the aid of stain remover). They work well on all denim jeans and cotton items.
                        They certainly pass the male (and sometimes female) - sweaty - armpit - T shirt / vest test too, (when something is clean and dry but still pong's a bit), this surprised me somewhat as even some conventional detergents have been know to fail this in the past.

                        I did however encounter problems with a few other items that had a varying amount of food spills and drips which came out of the machine, the same as they went in. My fault really, as I should have had the foresight to treat such marks with the stain remover provided instead of relying on the balls to do all the work themselves. These marks included tea (that's the drink and not the meal), curry, and marmite. Now don't get me wrong we are not messy eaters but accidents do happen and in light of such stains requiring treatment before they go in the machine, I am seriously considering investing in some plastic Pelican bibs, if only to save on the laundry. Tooth paste, mascara and mayonnaise did come out though without the need to use the stain remover. I had just trained the two men in my life to separate their dirty laundry into two wash baskets, one for whites, and the other for coloureds. Now I have introduced a third for items with stains. This is purely for my benefit, I have found it saves time as I don't have to check every individual garments for items that require the stain remover treatment with all the stained stuff being is in the same place. I must say having to do this is somewhat of a hindrance, it certainly wouldn't normally be required when using my usual eco friendly Soapnuts or indeed a conventional laundry detergent.

                        I can however report pleasing results when using these Ecoballs on the handy Freshen up cycle that my washing machine has, for those not familiar with this, then it is designed for freshening up items that are clean, but haven't been worn for a while, or have been stored away. I tend to use this programme more in the spring (when bringing summer clothing out of hibernation) and again in the autumn when all the winter wear emerges again. I have used these Ecoballs on this programme on some curtains which I brought out of storage this winter and was more than pleased with the fresh smelling results.
                        I am not yet ready though to trust these plastic balls with my favourite winter woollies or other delicate items ( even if they were placed in a laundry bag) having seen the way the balls fling themselves around in the machine.

                        My main bug bear with these however, is the fact that to save you having to put things through the machine again, you really do need to check every item for any visible marks or stains and if in doubt treat with stain remover. It saves you the hassle of having to put items through the machine again because the marks are still there. Not only will this save you valuable time but perhaps more importantly energy (electricity) and water.

                        You may question why I am recommending these when my experience using them has been a bit hit and miss, well its simple really, they do work providing you pre treat stains before putting things in the machine and the fact I can use them and cut out the rinse cycle. They are perfect for use in the freshen up cycle (when I would have normally used a fabric conditioner) and yes I do think continued use would save money in the long run, seeing as the pack I have, giving me 1000 washes, only works out at 3p per wash. This could be counter productive though should the need for the use of stain remover increase as I would be purchasing more tubes of the stuff long before I am due to refill the balls with fresh pellets.


                        Just type Ecoballs into any search engine and you will have a plethora of links to sift through, I have therefore picked out just a few places you can purchase a set of balls for yourself.
                        As far as I am aware you won't find them on the supermarket shelves, you will see them in certain shops but are available mostly on line. I have also seen them advertised in the colour supplements tucked inside magazines as well as those that are included in some of the weekend tabloid newspapers. My son has also seen a cheaper version on one of the shopping channels (what I call trash TV) although these didn't appear to be called Ecoballs, but instead were marketed as Envirowash Balls, they didn't look the same either.
                        It is worth checking you are buying the real thing as some cheaper alternatives may well contain harmful ingredients such as SLS (sodium lauyrl/laureth sulphate) which could cause allergic skin reactions for some.

                        ** John Lewis (where my mums came from)
                        3 ball pack, 1000 washes) 3p per wash. 45ml tube stain remover, 3 packs refills
                        £29.00 and is available both in store and on line.

                        ** Ecozone (www.ecozone.co.uk)
                        3 ball pack (1000 washes) 3p per wash. 45ml tube stain remover, 3 packs refills
                        2 ball pack (150 washes) 7p per wash 45ml tube stain remover, 2 refill packs
                        Delivery charge of £3.95 applies to orders under £75.00

                        ** Lakeland
                        2 ball starter pack (150 washes) 7p per wash. 45ml tube stain remover. 2 refill packs
                        Available in store and online.
                        Orders under £49.99 carry a £4.25 delivery charge.

                        Further refill packs are available from all of the above and as you would expect, John Lewis is selling refills (6 x45g packs) enough for 750 washes for £19.50, but it is worth shopping around for the best deal.

                        No doubt you will also find Ecoballs on E bay and Amazon.

                        An important thing to point out is that Ecozone offer a full 30 day money back guarantee if you are not satisfied with their Ecoballs, just return the product to the place you purchased it with your receipt and a full refund will be given. This may sound tempting but in my humble opinion I don't feel 30 days is sufficient time to evaluate the product.

                        Previously posted on ciao with pictures.

                        © tune57 2009


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                          26.07.2009 16:04
                          Very helpful


                          • Reliability


                          Very Poweful but noisy

                          My 10 year old bagged upright vacuum cleaner was not performing quite as well as it should, so we decided it was time to look at purchasing a new one. With so many to choose from I started to look round at what was available. The Dyson cleaners have appealed to me but I have not been overjoyed by the price of them. We had already decided to opt for a bagless cleaner as investigations have shown that these tend to be more powerful than the traditional bagged type models.

                          I spotted an Electrolux model I rather liked whilst browsing in John Lewis, it did everything I wanted but I wasn't too impressed with the £149.00 price tag, I did however spot an Electrolux brochure which contained details of all their vacuum cleaners ( apart from any prices that is), which I took home to peruse at my leisure.

                          ~Spoilt For Choice ~

                          The brochure contained details of 10 bagless upright cleaners ( as well as 4 bagged uprights), with no idea of prices (except for the one I spotted in John Lewis,) I set to work checking on line and also the Argos catalogue hoping to find some answers. The Argos catalogue listed all the cleaners shown and I discovered that prices ranged from £70.00 to £199.00. We opted for one of the mid priced ones as it had all the features we required, plus an additional 3 to 1 stretch hose( this allows you to vacuum a full flight of stairs without having to move the cleaner) Our choice was the Electrolux Z3042AZ Velocity + all surface cleaner, priced at £119.99. Himself decided to carry out further investigations using a price comparison site and rather pleased with his discovery, announced he had found the very same model for sale through the Co-Operative Electrical shop for £89.99, yes that's right £89.99 a difference of £30.00, plus delivery was free. More than satisfied with that we placed an order online and my new Vacuum cleaner arrived 3 days later.

                          ~What was in the box~

                          The box with its contents was not as heavy as I had expected and contained the vacuum body, handle (+2 screws), turbo nozzle with Riser VisorTM, dusting brush, crevice tool, extension wand, 3 to 1 hose, hard floor nozzle, additional 3 to 1 hose, user guide, spare drive belt and foam filter. The cleaner comes with the standard 1 year manufacturer's guarantee.
                          Assembly is achieved in a matter of minutes using the clear instructions, as it is simply a case of sliding the handle onto the vacuum body, then tightening with the two screws provided. The cord is then pushed into the cord retainer before placing the hose under the hose sleeve and over the hose hooks, then securing the hose into the hose retainer. Place the crevice tool and wand in front of the hose then place the dusting brush behind the handle and snap the Turbo Brush onto the handle at the front.

                          ~Ready for take off~

                          Of course I was eager to try it out and wasted no time in plugging in my new toy before pressing the rocker type switch which is located on the left hand side of the cleaner. This 2000 watt cleaner is certainly powerful, I was pleasantly surprised now easily it glided across the floor, my lounge carpet looked like new having, received the once over. The downside is, it is very noisy (that's the cleaner not the carpet), it sounded like an aircraft taking off and I did wonder if I should have invested in a pair of ear defenders too, however after a couple of months use, it doesn't seem as loud as it originally did so maybe I have become accustomed to the noise.
                          Alas I am the only one who shares that opinion. Last week whilst vacuuming the hall I was startled to see Himself stood in the kitchen facing me wearing a pair of earmuffs, arms outstretched holding a table tennis bat in each hand guiding me towards him, it was rather funny at the time but he didn't half look a plonker. He still covers his ears when the cleaner is in use to this day.

                          ~Product Features~

                          ~The Electrolux Z3042AZ, Velocity + All surface vacuum cleaner comes in white and cyan and has a powerful 2000 watt motor, it weighs in at 6.9kg (That's about 1511b in old money), so it's no lightweight although doesn't seem that heavy when I carry it up the stairs to do the bedrooms. This model also has a cleverly shaped ergonomic looped handle which makes pushing the cleaner easier than those with the standard straight type handles.
                          ~ HEPA Filter System ensures that only clean air leaves the cleaner making it ideal for allergy sufferers.
                          ~ Turbo Nozzle with Riser VisorTM is a fantastic attachment which flips up and down and is ideal for removing pet hair, while the Riser VisorTM allows you to easily clean vertical surfaces such as stair risers or the backs, sides and fronts of sofas and chairs. It sits neatly in the front of the cleaner so it's there when needed and makes a high pitched whistling like sound when attached to the hose and doing the business on the stairs.
                          ~ Quick Release Dust Cup, has the capacity to hold 2.2 litres of dust, the quick release function (just press a button) allows you to empty it quicker and easier. I have not experienced any fly back of dust either whilst emptying it. I always give this a quick rinse out before drying it and replacing in back on the cleaner.
                          ~ 3 to 1 Stretch hose. allows you to reach further than a normal hose as it can extend to 3 times its resting size. Letting you clean any above the floor areas of the house.
                          ~ Edge Cleaning, this clever cleaning system allows you to clean right up to skirting boards without having to use the crevice tool.
                          ~ Crevice Nozzle, when attached to the hose allows the cleaning of awkward to reach areas like behind radiators or down the sides/backs of sofas and chairs. Attaching this to the additional 3 to 1 hose is ideal for reaching up to the corners of ceilings to suck up any cobwebs that you may find lurking and so much easier than using one of those feather dusters.
                          ~ Hard Floor Nozzle Attachment makes light work of vacuuming hard floors when it is attached to the hose. I use this on my laminated kitchen and bathroom floors, before giving them the once over with the mop.
                          ~ Floor Type Selector is a knob situated on the front of the cleaner at the bottom; it enables you to adjust the setting to suit different floor types e.g., short or long pile and even hard floor. If you find the cleaner hard to push whilst vacuuming then you will probably find you have it on the wrong setting, just adjust the knob accordingly and away you go.
                          ~ Additional 3 to 1 Stretch Hose when attached to the usual hose allows you to clean a full flight of stairs without having to move the cleaner,
                          certainly better and a great deal safer than trying to balance the cleaner on the stairs like I had to with my old one.
                          ~ Dusting Brush lives behind the handle on the back of the cleaner so it is there when you need to dust furniture, curtains, blinds or lamp shades etc... It is simply attached to the end of the hose, wand or crevice tool, and then away you go.
                          ~ Standard 1 years manufacturers guarantee


                          The user guide (a 9 page booklet) gives useful information and tips on how to get the best from your cleaner as well as a handy maintenance schedule.
                          * It is recommended that the Dust Cup be emptied after each use. I was both shocked and amazed how much dust I had collected the first time I used the cleaner and I certainly follow this advice, as in the long run it does make keeping the cleaner easier and ensures it stays in tip top condition.
                          * Wash the foam filter and filter screen once a week, making sure they are both completely dry before you place them back in to the Dust Cup. I tend to do this each time I empty the dust cup as it makes life easier for me. I also give the HEPA filter a light brush with an old dry tooth brush to, to remove any lose dust. I am still amazed at the amount of dust that gathers around both filters even though I vacuum at least once every other day.
                          * Cleaning the brush Roll should be done on a monthly basis, it's simply a case of checking to make sure no threads of cotton or hair haven't managed to wind themselves round the brush roll. It is worth taking care when vacuuming rugs to ensure that any fringes' are not caught up in the brush, as this could result in the drive belt snapping which will stop the brush rotating. Both the brush and the belt should be replaced when they appear worn.
                          * HEPA filter should be replaced every 6 months, this is an easy process as it lives in the top of the dust cup, Just remove the old filter and replace it with a new one.

                          Obviously all the above should only be carried out when the cleaner is switched off and the power cord is unplugged.
                          The maintenance schedule is also printed on a label which is stuck to the back side of the dust cup for easy reference which saves you digging out the user guide should you forget what to do.

                          This is certainly a very powerful cleaner, especially when compared to my old one and I am amazed each and every time I use it just how much dust it picks up.

                          Replacement parts should be available from most outlets that stock vacuum spares, but after a quick check on the Electrolux website, I found prices for the following spares that are required to fit the Z3042AZ Velocity.

                          * Foam Filter (EF187)- £3.65
                          * HEPA Filter (EF186) - £9.98
                          * Drive Belt (ZE090) - £3.61 (pack of 2)
                          * Brush Roll (no part's number given) £11.74
                          Whilst in the long run this bagless type of cleaner will no doubt work out more expensive than my old bagged one, due to the fact Filters are required which are more expensive than a pack of dust bags, it is in my opinion worth it because it is more efficient at picking up all the unseen dust that lurks around on the carpet.

                          **Where can you get yours**

                          As previously mentioned we did a fair bit of shopping (surfing) around and can report our findings as follows.
                          * Co- Operative Electrical - £89.99 (free delivery)
                          *Tesco Direct - £119.97 (+ £4.85 Home delivery)
                          *Amazon - from £89.99 (free delivery)
                          * Argos - £119.99 (+£5.95 home delivery, free if you collect from store)

                          *About Electrolux*

                          The Electrolux Company sell more than 40 million products to customers in over 150 Countries every year. These include dish washers, cookers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and refrigerators all sold under esteemed brand names such as Electrolux, AEG, Eureka, Zanussi and Frigidaire
                          As a Company they strive to ensure that their products, services and production contribute to sustainable development. The designs of their products aim to reduce adverse environmental impact throughout the products life cycle, whilst resource and energy consumption, waste and pollution are regularly monitored for improvement. In 2007 the company were commended by the European Commission for their continuous efforts to improve energy efficiency.

                          Previously posted on ciao with pictures.

                          © tune57


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                            13.07.2009 11:27
                            Very helpful



                            An ideal way to compost just about all of your kitchen waste

                            As a family we try our best to do our bit for the environment by recycling and making use of the two regular compost bins we have in the garden for things like Tea bags, fruit/vegetable peelings, egg shells and garden clippings, in a bid to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfill.

                            I was staggered to learn that it is estimated 6.7 million tonnes of household food waste is produced in the UK each year, which accounts for around 30% of the waste that ends its days in landfill sites. I would assume that a lot of this could well have been eaten, I have been guilty in the past of over estimating the amount of food I have prepared and cooked only to be left with a pile of leftovers In the same way I have been tempted by special offers such as BOGOFS, but have found my self wondering what on earth I am going to do with the extra food sat in the fridge and before I know it is well past it's use by date. The same can be said for the scrapings left on plates too, it all ended up in the household bin along with the non recyclable plastic and perennial weeds from the garden. I have over the years become quite good at finding new and exciting ways to re create leftovers to avoid any unnecessary waste, although there are times when it is just not possible.

                            Imagine my delight when I discovered a way to compost such food wastage by using a Bokashi Kitchen Composter. My first reaction was one of disbelief as I couldn't for one minute see how you could compost virtually 100% of your kitchen waste without being infested with flies or even worse vermin. The more I read about them, the more intrigued I became and set about doing more research in to them. One of the initial things I did notice was the price. They weren't exactly cheap, If my memory serves me right the first ones I came across, cost in the region of £50.00 each and bearing in mind you are advised to have two (more about that later), I knew from the start I would be fighting a losing battle trying to convince my husband (and myself for that matter) that it would be a sound investment. Further research threw up cheaper ones and I was all set to order a set of two from Tesco direct for £42.00 plus delivery when I remembered a website I had read about which dealt in recycling products. By visiting www.recyclenow.com and entering your postcode, you are directed to your own councils recycling web pages. Most councils are doing their best to encourage us to recycle and compost and are therefore offering all manner of composting equipment at subsidised prices, in a bid to help us reduce the amount we send to landfill on a weekly basis. I was more than pleased to discover that my local council (Sheffield) were offering the Bokashi bins for £38.00 with free delivery. That's for two 18 litre capacity bins complete with drainage trays, a scoop, 2 months supply of Bokashi Bran and a special flat like paddle which you use to press the food down once it's in the bin. Seeing I had already saved myself (well the husband to be correct) £9.00 by not buying from Tesco Direct I placed my order online and my package arrived 4 days later. I would point out though that they were not actually dispatched from my local council but from a company called DHL Excel and I am assuming the same company handle all the distribution for such items, as a lot of the subsidised rates are only applicable to orders placed and paid for online. Additional supplies of bran are also available from here too. I am able to order 3 months supply for £10.00 again with free delivery and have already done so without any problems.

                            I was however a little surprised that there were no instructions included in the box, not that any were required to fit the loose bits to the bin
                            (drainage trays and taps) as that was obvious and very straight forward, but some information on what and what not could be put in the bin plus how to look after it would have been useful.
                            Further internet research gave me the answers I needed and I was able to set up my bin ready for its first meal of plate scrapings, vegetable peelings and a few leftovers that were of no use to man or beast.

                            ~ WHAT IS A BOKASHI BIN ~

                            The bins are specially designed containers made from re cycled plastic and are mostly sold in pairs, as this allows you to use the rotation method by having one fermenting whilst filling the other. The bins have a removable plastic perforated tray which sits in the bottom over a sump which works in a similar way to a wormery by allowing any liquid to drip through. (This needs draining off at regular intervals which I will explain about later) You will find bins in both 18 and 21 litre sizes, so as you can see they can cope with even the largest of families' food waste.
                            You need to place a thin layer of bran in the bottom on top of the drainage tray before you start adding any food waste. It is good idea to place a piece of paper kitchen towel on top of the tray first to prevent the bran falling through the holes.

                            Bokashi is the Japanese word meaning "Fermentation," this system of composting was developed by a Professor Teruo Higa and is being promoted around the world as a practical way to recycle all of our household food waste. It is the Bokashi bran that is the magic ingredient which starts the process off turning food waste into nutritious compost. It is kind of hard to believe at first but I can assure you it does work. This special wheat bran has been enriched with effective micro- organisms (EM) and molasses which ferments the food whilst neutralizing odours. It smells a bit like the bran I used to feed my rabbit, only sweeter. The bran performs the first stages of decomposition by what can only be described as a kind of "pickling" process.

                            Once you have your first layer of bran in place it's simply a case of what I call "feeding" the bin. It is important though to make sure any food placed in the bin is cut up into small pieces first and after each layer of food you need to add a scoop of bran, making sure it covers the surface of what ever you have just put in. It is important to press the contents down, the specially designed, flat paddle provided with the bins makes this very easy to do (looks a bit like a plasterers trowel) to expel any air trapped. This system works by the anaerobic method which means unlike your regular compost bin, oxygen is not required for the process to succeed. It is therefore necessary that you make sure the lid is put back on tight after each feeding session too. I keep this bin under the sink so it is on hand, whilst the one that is fermenting lives in the utility room out of sight but certainly not out of mind.

                            Once your bin is full, (mine takes between 7 to 10 days) put it to one side (out of direct sunlight) and leave it for a couple of weeks and start the process again with the other bin. You will need to keep draining off any liquid though at regular intervals. (I drain mine every other day) The amount produced varies depending on what sort of food you have fed the bin. My first draining exercise only produced around a tablespoon of juice, but subsequent drains have produced as much as 4 fluid ounces each time. The liquid or Bokashi juice is alive with beneficial microbes which must be diluted with water that's 1 part juice to 100 parts water to feed plants. It can be poured (undiluted) down the sink, drain or toilet to help prevent algae and control odours. I have disposed of my juice using all the methods mentioned and whilst I haven't noticed any dramatic change with the drains or the loo, my house plants seem to have acquired a taste for it and are certainly looking a lot healthier and happier these days. The juice I have collected has been brown in colour (similar to that of cold tea). It didn't really smell of anything either, but my husband did remark that he detected a bit of a cheesy whiff when he stuck his nose in the jar, (Wonder if that was the small piece of camembert that had been added to the bin.) Personally I thought it was more of a yeasty smell if anything, but either way it wasn't unpleasant.

                            Incidentally, the liquid or juice has been shown to have no harmful effect on the rivers in Japan and I assume it's safe to say it is of no threat to our waters either.

                            When I opened my first bin after it had been left to ferment for 2 weeks, I was amazed to see the contents looked exactly the same as they did when I left it to work its magic. It's difficult to explain what I expected to see but one would assume something to have happened during that time. Apart from a thin layer of a white mould on the top, which I have discovered is perfectly normal. A layer of green mould however signifies something has gone wrong, probably not enough bran or too much liquid and it's best to dispose of the contents along with your regular waste in the household bin, and start again.

                            The fact that the contents of the bin didn't smell nasty either came as a surprise, there was a slight hint of a pickled like aroma, but nothing in any way offensive. You'd think a few weeks worth or rotting meat a chicken carcass plus a multitude of other things would at least hum a bit wouldn't you!!

                            You have several options now to choose from on how you dispose of your bin contents.

                            Put in your compost bin in the garden

                            Dig it straight into the garden

                            Add it to your wormery (if you have one) but not too much all at once.

                            I opted for the first one, the fermented food departed the Bokashi bin in an almost jelly like mass, which I forked about a bit to break it up so it wasn't just sitting in a big clump. A couple of days later I couldn't resist having a peek and was surprised to see the level of the existing compost had dropped somewhat, this being due to the fact the Bokashi contents act as an accelerator and speed up the whole composting process. Not only am I composting my everyday kitchen waste but my regular compost bin is working twice as fast too as a result.

                            It is apparently perfectly safe to dig the Bokashi compost straight into the ground as the pickling process has rendered the contents unattractive to vermin and flies but having recently experienced a slight problem with rats entering our garden from the neighbours I am not yet prepared to take the risk. The compost is acidic when first added to the ground but will neutralize after around 10 days, just make sure you don't let it touch the roots of plants as it could burn them at this stage so you are advised to wait a few weeks before planting anything new in that spot.

                            Once you have emptied your bin it is important to wash and dry it thoroughly before you start the whole process again.

                            ~WHAT CAN YOU PUT IN THE BIN ~

                            This is where you may well be surprised at just what you can compost using the Bokashi system. You can add both cooked and uncooked food items of any of the following.
                            Meat, fish, bread, pizza, pasta, beans, lentils, vegetables, fruit, cereals, biscuits, crisps, nuts (plus their shells), cheese, butter, meat and fish bones, potatoes, coffee grounds, eggs, spent flowers, the list is endless.
                            All you need to make sure is everything is cut up small before adding them to the bin. It is very easy to break up a chicken carcass into small pieces especially if you have used it to make a lovely stock for soup, but I'm afraid bones from lamb shanks and oxtail went straight in the household rubbish as they are far too big and I didn't want to ruin my kitchen knives trying to hack them into manageable sized pieces.

                            As you can see using this system would virtually remove the need to landfill any of your kitchen food waste

                            ~WHAT YOU CAN NOT INCLUDE IN THE BIN ~

                            The following are rather obvious, but are worth mentioning to avoid any confusion and are listed on various websites as being unsuitable material.
                            Pet waste, metals, wood, glass, plastic, liquids, tobacco / ash and Tea Bags The inclusion of the latter may well surprise you ( it did me) and the reason for this is Tea bags are considered to be too wet and would upset the fermenting/pickling process. You can add up to 5 of them a day providing they have been squeezed out , but even then you are advised not to be temped to do so, instead add them as you would normally do to your regular compost bin outside if you have one. It is also worth pointing out that you should NOT add any mouldy food to the bin, so if you have a piece of cheese, lurking at the back of the fridge that has acquired a fur coat (believe me I have had a few of those in my time), then you will have to dispose of this with your normal household waste instead.

                            This whole system is in my opinion, ingenious and very easy to follow as it requires very little attention. As long as you remember to cut up food small, add a layer of bran, press down to expel any trapped air, drain off the juice at regular intervals and keep the lid on tight then you can't fail to make nutritious compost for your garden.

                            I have been "pickling" my food waste for almost 2 months now and have found it all very straight forward and easy to do.

                            As mentioned before prices of the bins and bran vary somewhat so it's worth shopping around. Apart from the usual Eco friendly sites you will also find them on places like Amazon and EBay, but it's worth checking out your local council first. Some have even been offering them free of charge for an introductory period, so you never know you may be lucky enough to get one this way, failing that you are more than likely to be able to purchase one at a subsidised rate.
                            Go that extra mile and help reduce the amount that goes into landfill by composting all your food waste the Bokashi way.

                            ** I'm "Pickled" pink with my bins and I'm sure you will be too.**

                            ***Previously posted by me on ciao with pictures***



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