Thursday, April 28, 2011

Caf-Lib Grain Beverage with Chicory

Second only to chocolate, coffee is my other food "addiction" that I don't have any interest or desire to give up, at least not any time soon!  I just have to have my morning cuppa to get the day going. And most days, at least 2-3 more cups before the end of the day. It was worse when I was younger, sometimes I drank coffee to the exclusion of eating much (8-10 cups of the regular brew!) all in the name of weight control. NOT a good idea. Since then I've been trying to maintain healthier eating habits and curbing my coffee consumption is a big part of these ongoing efforts.

There is a lot of discussion these days about the pros and cons of coffee. Is it healthy or is it something we'd be better off passing on? One thing is for sure, I'm not alone in loving coffee! I don't think it's a staple beverage that's going to disappear from this world, any time soon.

I have been looking for a good coffee alternative as a way of cutting down on the caffeine found in regular coffee. I should also mention that I actually prefer instant coffee (strange but true) so finding a sub. wasn't as difficult as it probably would have been if I was looking for the regular brewed type.

I recently tried Caf-Lib a grain beverage made with chicory and barley. And I'm happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised just how good it was. A very smooth, mellow flavour. I didn't know what to expect but I actually preferred it to my regular choices of instant coffee: Nescafe, Taster's Choice and Encore.

I gave this a comparison test, trying Nescafe Instant Decaf and Caf-Lib at the same time. What I noted that was particularly different was the Caf-Lib had no aftertaste or "bite" for lack of a better word that the Nescafe Decaf did. Both are good products for this type of beverage but I actually preferred the Caf-Lib.

And if you think by drinking decaffeinated coffee that you are completely avoiding caffeine, think again. A regular 8 ounce cup of decaf instant or brewed coffee still contains approx. 5-12 mg.  of caffeine. Even that small amount can add up during a day if you are drinking cup after cup.

Another concern: beware of what process the caffeine is removed with. I still found a store brand recently that contained the chemical  dichloromethane  used to remove the caffeine in that particular instant coffee. This is a chemical that is also used as a paint stripper and for dry-cleaning clothes! It's so important to read ALL the fine print and "clever" wording on packaging. I didn't think this process to remove caffeine was even allowed any longer but apparently it still is. Here's another eye-opening article from Natural News that explains in more detail what manufacturers are actually required to list on their packaging when it comes to all the ingredients.
                                                

          Chicory plant

I found this information about some of  the benefits of chicory over at About.com. I already was aware that chicory is considered a good natural body cleanser, in particular the liver and intestinal tract (including dealing with those nasty little intestinal parasites!) and is a beneficial to the circulatory system as well. What I wasn't aware of is that chicory dissolves better in hot water than coffee, another reason it makes an ideal alternative to regular coffee.
       
Coffee substitutes/alternatives have been around for a long time. Apparently by way of necessity when money was scarce and coffee was simply too expensive for many people to buy. By roasting chicory and other grains, farmers came up with alternatives to the regular brew that have evolved and improved over time. Caf-Lib is a great example of what can come from this kind of innovation and experimentation.

I plan to continue buying and drinking Caf-Lib. It really was a pleasant surprise. Reasonably priced too, comparable to the better-quality brands of instant coffee I checked, about $6. for a 150g. jar. You can check it out over at Amazon too.

Now I'm off to the kitchen for another cuppa!


Overall rating for this product: Very Good. 4 out of 5.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Taking a Short Break...

...I've sprained my wrist (don't know how exactly) and it's quite painful to do much typing. I hope to be back to blogging and visiting in a few days.

Until then, Happy Easter and BFN, G

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

PhotoScape V. 3.5

I've tried quite a few free photo-editing software programs over the years and I have yet to find any that I like better than PhotoScape 3.5.

This is user-friendly software at it's best. I am not a techie person by nature! When the instructions get too complicated, boring or technical, I tend lose interest fast and eventually give up on a project. Needless to say, this can be frustrating.

In the past, I've tried the free versions of: Adobe Photoshop, Picasa, Windows Live Photo Gallery, Flickr to name a few. My needs were simple.

Easy ways to organize photos into folders, editing capabilities that included cropping, red eye removal, tweaking colors a bit when necessary and if possible, some of the 'fun stuff' like the ability to make easy collages, photo headers, banners etc. With PhotoScape you get all this and a whole lot more.

This archive article at About.com  re: PhotoScape explains some of it's main features in more detail and also includes (the best part) a long list of mainly happy PhotoScape users who have commented on their experiences with this software.

                              
Here are a couple of recent collages I made (in a matter of minutes) with PhotoScape:
                        

                                                       

                                

And some fun I had with a Mr. Cheddar photo:
                                   


For the Ched photo, it was easy to fill in the background to accomodate the text cloud (which btw is over-the top on purpose!) and there are many, many other fun add-ons to jazz up photos in fun or more formal ways.

I also appreciate that this is a full-version of this software and not a limited trial version with endless requests to buy, buy, buy after the fact. No pop-ups or email spam either.

A very easy to navigate and understand menu too:



If you are techie-challenged (like I am but getting better) or maybe just looking for an easy way to work with and organize your photos without a hefty price tag attached, PhotoScape is definitely worth a try. 

 If you do, let me know how it goes!


Overall rating for this product/service: Excellent. 5 out of 5.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Writing by Stephen King


From the Amazon media review page:

"Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists."

"King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary model."





                                                
                                             
I have never been a fan of Stephen King's novels but I loved reading this book : On Writing.

As I mentioned in my recent book review of: Writing Fiction for Dummies, there are several writing guides that I have read over the years that I have found helpful and others, not so much.

In the case of On Writing, not only did I learn (or was reminded of) many helpful writing rules, lessons and tips from one of the best-selling authors in the world; I also enjoyed the captivating story of his life to date. The journey that has taken King from his lowly beginnings to the pinnacle of the writing world with millions of loyal fans worldwide.

Ironically (perhaps) many of the readers who love this book are not among the Stephen King fans who eagerly await the release of his latest novel. As I mentioned above, that would include me. It didn't matter though, this was a page-turner of a different kind.

His bio was fascinating including many things I did not know about his "rags to riches" rise to fame and his personal struggles with addiction and years of publishing rejections before his "big break" with Doubleday and his first published novel in 1974: Carrie.

In the writing guide portion of this book, there were many down- to -earth, easy to implement suggestions such as:  "Read a lot and write a lot", putting the manuscript away for a period of time and then taking it out to with a fresh and renewed perspective, the do's and don'ts of grammar. Some of the basics from Strunk & White's 'Elements of Style' but explained here in a much more accessible way. The importance of creating characters who will remain realistic and engaging  for the entire story. The list goes on and on...

A reference book for all writers: novice or more experienced. And for those who never plan to write anything themselves, it's still a book that I would recommend. If biographies are among your favorite type of books, you won't want to miss this one. It is an inspiring story that will ring true for most people, in particular anyone who has struggled against the odds in their own choices of creative pursuits.

Stephen King proves that it's not about where you are coming from or what you've been dealt with along the way, it just matters that you don't get discouraged. give up or give in. Through addictions, health problems, financial woes, a brush or two with death, and a stack of rejection letters that piled up year after year, the difference was just that. Stephen King was not a quitter and he never gave up.

I'm glad he took the time and had the interest in sharing his lessons on writing and his own personal journey in this book. And I'm glad that I wasn't swayed by my dislike of his novels and decided to read it anyways. A 10 year anniversary edition of On Writing, is now available. Maybe it's time for a re-read!

Overall rating for this book: Very Good. 4 out of 5. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy


It's not very often that my opinion of a book is almost completely opposite to the reviews posted over at Amazon. In the case of: Writing Fiction for Dummies, that pretty much sums it up.

This book and it's authors have a loyal following. And I can understand why in some respects. It certainly delivers "the goods" if you are looking for a "technical breakdown" for lack of a better term on what it takes to write a novel in particular. What it isn't, in my opinion is an easy,engaging or "encouraging-for-the-aspiring- novelist" type of book to read.

It's been one of my goals, dreams, aspirations to write a novel for a LONG time. I gave it a constructive and lengthy try, a couple of times.

During one of those writing blitzes I even had the courage to share my finished pages (as the book progressed) with a friend who regularly read women's fiction along the same lines as what I was aspiring to create. This was also a friend known for "shooting from the hip" and definitely someone who would not hold back with her true opinion and feedback. And that suited me just fine. Her reaction to my weekly offerings  again and again were:

"this is just as good as anything else I've ever read" and "when will you have more ready to read" ...and other similar comments.

Needless to say, I was encouraged. Did I ever finish that book? No I did not. Short version of a long story, mainly because the story line became too emotional and personally painful for me to continue.I'll leave it at that.

The desire to write a novel though, has never left me. Right now I have another story idea in mind that I am eager to pursue. I've been looking for some writing aids in my quest to start and keep on going this time, to see my "great Canadian novel" finally a reality.

So back to Writing Fiction for Dummies. Again, there's no doubt that the popularity of this book and the amount of detailed work that has gone into every chapter is evident. But every time I have gone to read another chapter, I've eventually found myself either nodding off or daydreaming about something more pleasant to consider.

Writing any kind of book, fiction or non-fiction; sure it's work and a lot of work to get it right but should it not also be a creative and satisfying experience along the way? Isn't that what writing or any type of craft is  all about? All I felt after reading through (most not all) of this book was discouragement and boredom.

When I write a story, well... I WRITE A STORY! The polishing, the editing, the re-writing it comes afterwards. I don't want to be weighed down with a lot of the do's and don'ts and attention to the smallest of details that are presented in this book when I'm just trying to type as fast as I can! My main concern at that point in the process is not to "lose the muse or the moment".

From the Table of Contents:

  • Exposition: Explaining Cultural drivers through narrative summary.
  • Finding Your Category's Requirements and identifying your story's emotional driver.
  • Setting Up the Structure of Individual Scenes and following up with the reactive scene
  • Fixing Proactive Scenes and examining final results
  • Deciding whether to show and tell and following an example of decision making....
and so on and so on...and yawn, yawn, yawn....

I think this book may be a valuable resource for editing after the "meat and potatoes" process of actually writing a novel is complete or almost complete. Or for a writer with a definite analytical type of mind and style of writing. It's not what I'd call a "user-friendly" writer's resource and yes, I have read a few that I would categorize that way. I'll be posting some of my choices for writing guides I have found more helpful, here in the future.

Overall rating for this book: Fair. 2 out of 5.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Black & Decker 16C Rice Cooker Plus (RC426-C)



Being an avid cook and vegetarian-cookbook author, I'm always on the look-out for new gadgets and small appliances to check out and try. In the case of this Black & Decker 16 Cup Rice Cooker, I'm glad I did. Not only does this cooker make excellent rice, it doubles as a multi-purpose cooker for soups, stews, pasta dishes, chili...

At less than $20 (on sale when I purchased it several months ago) this has been a real bargain purchase. The large 16C. capacity is big enough for a large amount of rice to be cooked to perfection. And with soups and stews, several portions can be accommodated in one cooking session. Easy to use and to clean up too. Doesn't take up a lot of counter space either. For someone in a small apartment or a student just starting out, this would also be an excellent choice.

There are a few features that I think could be improved on this cooker. First of all, ditch the spoon holder on the side, I never use it and the spoon put in place there just gets in the way. Speaking of the spoon, well it's kind of a joke but it's tucked away in a drawer now so not a concern.

Another issue I have with this rice cooker is the steam vent on the top. It's rather small and isn't adjustable so when a soup or similar recipe is at full simmer, it's sometimes necessary to jiggle the lid to tilt it open it a bit (not a great idea safety wise), to allow for more steam to escape and to continue to simmer without boiling over. This could definitely be improved with a bigger and adjustable steam vent opening.

Another feature to add that would be helpful is a low and high setting, in addition to the warm. The two settings: Warm and Cook don't leave much in the way of options. If you are only using this for rice, it works fine but for other types of cooking, 3 settings would be very helpful. 

A measuring "cup" is included with the cooker and it's important to use this when measuring out rice, not a regular full 1 C. measuring cup. It's actually a 3/4 C. measure. Instructions for cooking different types of rice are included in the instruction manual. I've tried a various types of brown rice, all with good results but I now add more water at the beginning of the cooking process, to get better results and no sticking on the bottom of the pot.

For example, for a 2 C measure (using their cup!) I fill the cooker to the 3 C. water line, not the 2 as stated in the instructions and it works much better. You will need to try it with your own favorite types of rice and adjust water accordingly. The tip to leave the rice in warm mode for 10-15 minutes at the end of the cooking process (it automatically clicks over to warm mode) is a good suggestion. It really improves the fluffiness and flavor of the finished rice.

For a very low price, this is a multi-use small appliance that is a real helper in the kitchen. I often have my bread-machine baking and this cooker filled with soup simmering away at the same time. And voila!!! a delish homemade bread and soup for dinner, ready in a hurry and easy-peasy cleanup afterwards!

The Amazon page featuring this cooker shows the U.S. model. The C in the model number I note on my instruction book, I'm assuming refers to the product sold in Canada. I bought ours at Walmart on sale but the one I've featured here appears to be exactly the same.

Overall rating for this product: Good. 3 out of 5. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Mr. Cheddar Review: Zuke's Hip Action Treats

                                                        




Amen to that Ched!

BTW, that's some text cloud you've got there! Impressive in a strange sort of way LOL Ok, all kidding aside and on with our review...

That's exactly what the Ched "says" when these tasty little morsels are taken out of his stash cupboard. And that in my opinion is the minus when it comes to giving these treats (which are available for dogs too). In small print on the package it gives feeding instructions. For a big boy like the Ched (he weighs in at about 14 pounds) he is only suppose to have 2 of these treats daily. Two!!! That's not a treat for either of us. He looks at me as if I'm being a cheap-o Meowmie, every time I dole these out. For smaller cats, up to 11 pounds, the news is even worse, just 1 a day!

And Ched LOVES the taste of these.

And he does want MORE, MORE, MORE.

I also wonder if a lot of people fail to notice the tiny printed feeding instructions and give these with abandon to their pets? These are supplements after all, not just treats. Each barrel-shaped portion contains 50 MG. of Glucosamine and 15 MG. of Chondroitin. Both ingredients are (as with humans) said to promote and improve joint health. They also do not contain any artificial colors, wheat, corn, soy or by-products according to the package.

All good, all pluses but again, how do you tell your pet: "that's it, that's all, see ya tomorrow"...when they want MORE?


From the Amazon product page:

Did you know that cats can suffer from achy and stiff joints just like people and dogs do? Cat Hip Action treats contain cat-specific levels of the same pharmaceutical-grade glucosamine and chondroitin found in our best-selling Hip Action dog treats. In addition to soothing aches and pains, recent studies show that glucosamine also can promote cat urinary tract health. Made with real chicken and salmon, plus vitamins and minerals, Hip Action treats are a delicious way to keep your cat agile and healthy.


So for Ched it was a mixed blessing finding a couple bags of Zuke's Hip Action treats  in one of his Christmas goodie bags. He loves the taste of them but he doesn't love the limited portions he is allowed each day. Perhaps the company that manufactures these could try a lower-dose version that would allow more portions per day. I know it will make Ched's day if they do.

PS: I debated about what rating to give this product and decided on Good. Except for the portion concerns, I still think it's better than a lot of cat treats/supplements that are currently available.

An update with additional product information from the folks at Zuke's:
"Thanks for this! Fun indeed. You should check out our Natural Purzz treats too! They are the same taste/look/smell as the Hip Action, but
they don't contain the glucosamine or chondroitin, so they can be fed as
much as you want. Mr. Cheddar would be happy to know that!
Thank you for your support."
                                        
Overall rating for this product: Good. 3 out of  5.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Oral-B Cross Action Power (Duel Clean) Toothbrush

                                          



For years, I've been buying and trying various types/brands of toothbrushes, including some expensive power toothbrushes (battery and rechargeable types) and several manual ones too.

Recently, I had enough points to go on quite a "spree" at our local Shopper's Drug Mart and since the bristles on the manual toothbrush I had been using were looking a bit sad, thought I'd give one of these battery-powered brushes from Oral-B a try. Being on sale for less than $7. was a nice plus too. And for me it cost only points that day. Free is my favorite words (LOL) when it comes to shopping!

Don't be fooled by the very low price of these brushes, they work like a charm. The brush head replacements (2 pk.) are also very reasonable, about $4. that day. A real bargain especially when compared to the  $100 and over for a power brush and $20 plus for a set of 2 replacement heads (which are suppose to be changed every 2-3 months) that I'd used in the past. Needless to say, this kind of repeat buying gets rather pricey.

The great thing is, the result are just as good, maybe even better with these newer, lower-priced versions of power toothbrushes compared to the higher-priced ones I'd tried in the past. The Oral- B Cross Action Power Duel Clean has two bristle heads (one round, one cupped) and that's what really makes a difference with results. Instead of just going over the surfaces of teeth, the cupped, lower bristles "cradle" each tooth and do a very good job of getting them smooth and clean, including the gum line and between teeth. Impressive!

Here's some additional information from the Oral-B site about this particular toothbrush and tips on brushing, oral health, coupons etc...

If you're like me and thought that these toothbrushes couldn't possibly be as good as the high priced "bells and whistle" types with the price-tags to match, give one of these a try. And compared to manual brushes, well... there is no comparison!

I also find that the vast array of choices of these power brushes can be a bit overwhelming at the stores. It's nice to narrow it down to a brand/type that you really like and will want to stay with. And stock up on replacement heads when they are on sale! I know I've found a keeper. It's nice to be pleasantly surprised when a lower-priced version of any must-have item proves to be a winner. In this case, that's exactly what happened.

Overall rating for this product: Excellent. 5 out of 5.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

One-Yard Wonders by Rebecca Yaker and Patricia Hoskins



This book was part of a gift package that I recently received. I was happy to finally check out and review a copy of One-Yard Wonders. In keeping with the continued  and growing popularity that the craft of home-sewing is once again experiencing (and for people of all ages and skill levels) it's easy to understand why this has been such a popular book.

As a long-time crafter (with sewing being close to the top of my list of crafts that I love) craft instructor, author and columnist, I have some positive and not so positive things to say about my impressions of this book.

On the plus side: I love the concept of 1 yard or less fabric required for each of the 101 projects in this book. That's not a lot of fabric to work with but the editors/authors of this book (and the many designers who also contributed to the book) have done a good job of providing a wide variety of fun, practical and for the most part, very easy to make projects.

Some of the projects included (to name but a few) that I found attractive
 and worth considering were:
  • Collapsible Shopping Tote
  • Simply Beautiful Sundress
  • Obi-Inspired Hot and Cold Pack
  • Granny's Clothespin Apron
  • Bird Mobile
  • Checkers to Go
  • Not-Ugly Car Trash Bag
  • Smocked Pillow in the Round
                                                                       
Other good points about this book:

Detailed instructions for each project, with diagrams and some projects also include paper pattern templates to use as well. A very attractive presentation, large color photographs of each project.A good range of project categories including those for the home, clothing for everyone in the family (including several items for the pets too), lots of interesting bags and totes, and some tech related items including CD and lap-top sleeve....there really is something for everyone. There is also a good, basic instruction section at the beginning of the book, outlining the skills and general notion supplies required for using the book. The handy ring-binder (on the inside of sturdy cover where it should be) is also a nice touch, the book lays flat and stays that way!

Now to the not so positive points. As many Amazon readers of this book mentioned, for the most part, these are very easy projects not really for an experienced seamstress or crafter if they are looking for a challenge. Personally, although I've been sewing for over 20 years, sometimes a simple, quick project is exactly what I am looking for so in that regard, simple can be a plus or a minus, depending on what you are looking for and the time you have to make something. Most of these would definitely be doable in an afternoon/day. There were also quite a few comments about the projects that were simply covering objects with fabric, with minimal sewing such as book covers and wall boards. Again, I agree these are rather easy but if it's what someone needs to be inspired and the item is something that would fit their immediate requirements, especially for beginners that can be ok too. A lot of these are also not terribly original and yes, many of these patterns/projects (or very similar items) could be found elsewhere or simply designed as you go.

I do appreciate seeing yet another step in the right direction in terms of recycling and re-thinking fabrics and other types of craft materials and seeing them for what they can be, treasures just waiting for someone's creative touch and a bit of hobby time. And that's always a good thing. The relaxation factor of crafting is worth considering too! This book might be a good reminder to many (it was for me) to once again find the time to include sewing and all it's rewards, as part of their leisure/hobby pursuits. 

The projects in this book can take the remnants that you may have been stashing for a LONG time and finally transform them into something you can be happy that you took the time to make. And when it comes to gifts, creating a hand-sewn item can bump it up a notch in a big hurry, usually for a very small investment of money and time. Who knows, you might end up making a treasure that will be passed down for years to come and enjoyed again and again. 

The book would also be a great gift for the crafters you know or wannabees just starting out. A nice add-on gift with a new sewing machine perhaps? Very reasonably priced at Amazon right now.

Overall rating for this book: Good. 3 out of 5.
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