Add a little spice

Date Sat, October 4 2008

As I wrote my last review for the TGI Fridays potato skins, I mentioned I hadn’t planned on reviewing food. Shortly after, I tried a new product and immediately wanted to review it. Funny how that works, huh?

Contessa Foods is a company that claims to be “green.” I read this on the package of Orange Chicken as I as cooking and although it wasn’t a factor that lead me to make the purchase, it might affects others. Their line of frozen foods seems to consist of stir fry type entrees, especially Chinese.

Contessa Orange Chicken boasts lots of vegetables along with white rice, sauce and battered chicken akin to frozen stir fries. The first thing I notice was that the directions were a bit more complex than many stir fries, not much as it still took me less than 20 minutes to make but enough.

The chicken, rice and sauce are each packaged in a plastic bag (not very green, huh?) while the veggies – consisting of broccoli, baby corn, carrots, red peppers and water chestnuts – are loose in the big bag. Instructions say to cook the rice separately in the microwave or on the stove top.

Then, with cooking oil of cooking spray, sautee the veggies for 5 minutes, add the chicken for another 4 – 5 minutes. While doing this, thaw the sauce under warm water for 30 seconds. I found 30 seconds to be far too little time to thaw the sauce, under hot water. It might be wiser to pop the package in the microwave (watch carefully!) for a few seconds. You’re also left with a wet bag if you’re like me and forget to dry it off. All in all, I think that the water method is not the best way to thaw the sauce.

After 5 minutes of sauteing the chicken and veggies, add the sauce until it’s warm. I also added the rice, too. You’re supposed to serve them separately but since I like to mix anyway, I did.

One thing I could tell, when adding the sauce, is that it was very Asian. This is not the type of orange chicken one will get in an American Chinese restaurant. The smell of it is akin to the smell of local Japanese food that neither my husband or myself like. I suspected right away that he would not like this dish.

I was right. While it’s not bad, I suspect most Americans except a more Americanized version of this dish. I wound up eating it myself, in portions, because I knew he wouldn’t like it.

The rice and veggies were soft, the chicken was delicious and there was a pleasant spiciness without being too spicy overall. However, the sauce just didn’t do it for me. Also, since I don’t love all my veggies, I passed on the broccoli and water chestnuts; luckily there weren’t too many of them. There seemed to be the most corn overall so someone who loves broccoli might be disappointed but it would be easy to add extra vegetables to the dish.

I thought the packages of chicken and rice were pretty small and overall this dish which claims to be 2.5 servings is more like 2 and probably won’t feed a hungry tummy. It might be worth adding a side dish like spring rolls or corn soup.

If you want something really Asian, you might enjoy this, otherwise I would pass and try Contessa’s beef stir fry or get the orange chicken from a take out restaurant.

Let It Rain!

Date Tue, September 30 2008

I really have nothing but good to tout about the Peerless 5 Spray Shower Head. It totally transformed my shower for less than $20. Before, where the water fell straight down from the shower, I actually have a spray that shoots out and I don’t have to stand right next to the wall. This also eliminates the leaking into the bathroom floor.

Although I originally was not fond of how it looked (ours is black), it really has grown on me. Ryan initially liked it because he thought it looked really nice and I now agree.

The features (like a massage spray) are really something we weren’t even looking for when we headed into Wal-mart (where we bought it). They’re definitely nice, easy to use and really add value to this shower head.

This was also easy to put on. I believe Ryan only used a wrench to replace the old shower head with this one and it didn’t take very long at all.

I was really surprise with how much this improved my shower experience, especially at such a great price. I only hope I’ll have as easy a time if I ever need bathroom faucets.

Xpress Yourself

Date Sun, September 28 2008

Third time’s not the charm but I really hoped it would be with my Nokia 5310 XpressMusic. In truth, I can’t give an accurate review of the phone itself because my provider, T-Mobile has customized it to their liking, with their software. I can only review the phone they gave me and as such, the review won’t necessarily apply to all Nokia 5310s. Because this is so closely related to the cell phone service, I will also be reviewing that but not yet.

To start, the Nokia 5310 is a slim little SIM-using, GSM phone that is very slick. With black keys, a dark grey exterior and several choices for colour accents including orange, red, blue, purple and silver, this phone is very pleasing to the eye.

One of its key features, as a member of the XpressMusic family, is the ability to listen to music transferred from your computer. It also comes complete with a 2.0 MP digital camera with which you can take pictures and record videos, radio, up to 30MB internal memory, convert application (currency, weight, etc), Bluetooth capabilities and a slot for Micro SD memory cards to store your music, pictures and videos. Typically standard features like WAP web browsing, text and multimedia features, voice dialing, ring tones, themes and application support also exist.

Software aside, the 5310 XpressMusic comes with its own USB cord for data transfer as well as Nokia’s microphone and ear bud headset and charger (of course). The phone also comes with a micro SD memory card of 1 GB which is easily replaceable if you fill it.

The Nokia 5310 both sounds and looks like a dream come true and it just may be. However, because of TMobile I am not able to use all of these features as I would like to and I believe performance is hindered by the software variant the company uses.

Still, there were definitely some features I came to enjoy. The sound quality on this phone is pretty decent and I enjoy listening to to the radio with the head phones. The headset works well with its button that can end calls or change radio stations and songs and makes it easy to multitask even though it’s not wireless.

What I like the most are the buttons for the music. The 5310 XpressMusic has 3 dedicated music buttons along the left side that serve to play/pause, and shift back or forward. When listening to the radio, these buttons change the station from a list of presets. This features works well, as it ought to considering it is a big selling point.

As a side note, I have yet to transfer music so I have only enjoyed these buttons for the radio. There is an option to automatically scan and add all stations so the phone will automatically pick up strong signals. Any stations that are not added can be added manually.

Now, on to the software variant that T-Mobile uses. This information may not apply to the Nokia 5310 in general.

I found the menu a little confusing at first and not as intuitive as I would have liked. Part of this is due, I believe, to having the T-zones in the menu so this does not reflect Nokia. Having T-zones as an application and being able to access the same exactly T-zones online, via the browser, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

However, what I didn’t like I was able to easily change. Users have options to change both the order and view of the menu. I changed my menu to display in tab form because I feel I get the most space usage. Users can set to grid or list view as well. Menu items can be ordered anyway the user chooses.

One thing I did immediately was to take off the My Faves display and replace it with navigational icons so that I can more quickly access things like my message inbox, radio and camera. The My Faves display allows users to quick add, edit and view information about their 5 Faves. I prefer to have quicker access to certain features, instead. If some of the features weren’t buried several menus deep, I might not do this. For instance, in order to access the camera, a user must press Menu > scroll the Fun & apps > Media and then finally select the camera. The radio is also located in the Media menu. It would be nice if both of these features, or at least the camera, had a dedicated button.

The menu also contains sub menus for logging (which are extensive), settings, music (on the internal drive or memory card), phonebook, fun & apps (which contains your gallery, games, applications, media, etc), messaging, IM & E-mail and T-zones (internet access including browser and bookmarks).

For the most part, it’s easy to use these features. I automatically went to settings and changed things like the security keyguard, call timer, and navigational shortcuts. One downfall I think this phone has, which is because of T-Mobile, is that the right soft key can only link to T-zones on the home screen, while all other keys can be cusotmize.

Another unfortunate limitation of the phone, because of T-Mobile, is that some features are not fully enabled. Third party applications are automatically blocked and although users can download ring tones and themes to use, they may not work.

My last gripe is that the reception is really touch and go. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s not generally good, either. Sitting still, the phone can range from 4 bars to none in just a few seconds and it’s quick to switch back and forth. I have had more than one call drop, as well. Unfortunately, it seems like this is more an issue with the phone itself than with the service.

Overall, the phone has been decent and most of the troubles I have had to deal with were because of T-Mobile. If you read about my frustrations and having to return the phone twice while I still wound up with a phone that did not correctly work, you can rest assured that this was also T-Mobile’s responsibility. However, they have been quick to exchange and try to help me with my issue even if they did not understand it.

I hope to write a review of my T-Mobile service after I have spent more time with them. In the mean time, I do really like my Nokia 5310 XpressMusic, I just wish all the software worked.

Punch punch kick!

Date Sat, September 27 2008

So, a while ago I considered getting some yoga DVDS to do at home considering how much I dislike exercising and even moreso, in public. I reconsidered the idea lately and thought that maybe, instead of yoga, I might try Tae Bo. I recall doing it in gym class in high school and although it was silly, it got your heart working. I think either idea is better than using a drug like Leptovox. Anyway, I was browsing Amazon and found that they have a lot of workout DVDs for pretty cheap so I think I will invest in a couple once I have some money.

If anyone has any specific DVD or trainer they like, let me know!

Life Just Got a Little Bit Easier

Date Fri, September 26 2008

Since moving, I’ve used a couple of products that have really been a life saved.

One of which is the Swiffer Duster. There are several pieces in this line, the regular duster and the one with the Extendable Handle, which is what I got. It extends up to 3 feet so it makes it easy to get those hard to reach places. But what makes the Swiffer Duster such an improvement over a regular feather duster or rag is that the dust cloths are made from the same lint-attracting material as other Swiffer products. Instead of just pushing around the dust, the Swiffer duster actually collects it and removes it from the surface.

With 2 refills (actually, I think mine had more), the Swiffer dusters themselves are easy to use. Shake them out to fluffy them up, slide them on the hand and you’re ready to go.

The nice thing about the extendable handle is that it pivots so you can set it an an angle to dust the top of something tall, like an entertainment center or perhaps even a ceiling fan.

I found these really do pick up dust well and make the job a breeze. If there’s 1 thing I’m not so fond about it’s that the refills are relatively flat, not round like many feather dusters, so there’s only 2 sides to use. However, Swiffer has a new 360 Duster that should do the trick for that.

Helpful Hint: When dusting with a dry duster, light candles. They will not only freshen up the room and add atmosphere but will also burn up any dust in the air.

The other is a pack of Medium sized hooks with Command Adhesive by 3M. It might sound silly that I would review something so small, so simply but it’s also so effective.

I bought a 6Pack of Medium Command Hooks which came with 12 adhesive strips so that you can reuse the hooks. This is perfect when you don’t have any air tools and don’t want to leave a mess.

Right now I’m using 3 of them in my cook/shoe closet to hang up my broom, Swiffer and the previously mentioned Swiffer Duster. Because I have no space in my pantry and no other kitchen closet, I had to shove these items in my coat closet. However, the floor was already full of shoes so I decided to “build up” instead.

Peel off the line on the adhesive strips, stick it to the hook, stick the hook on the wall and wait an hour. The medium sized hooks are meant to hold up to 3lbs but 3M makes hooks as small as mini and as large as jumbo as well as hooks with different shapes and even chrome hooks to add a little style.

So far, I’ve had no problems. The hooks stick wonderfully and my Swiffer Wet is probably over the 3lb limit (although the fluid bottle is not full).

When it comes time to take them down, all I need to do is push up on the hook and it will slide off, revealing the end of the adhesive tab. Removing them, which I have done before, is simply a matter of pulling the tab until it comes undone and your wall is free of damage and residue.

Helpful Hint: When organizing in a small space, build up rather than out.

Surprisingly Delicious!

Date Thu, September 25 2008

Sometimes, you see some sort of food product and, against your better judgment, decide to try it. Sometimes, those products are better than you imagined, surprisingly so!

One example of this are the precooked, microwaveable Compleats by Hormel. Although the idea of a complete meal sitting in a plastic tray on a shelf for God-knows-how-long in a store isn’t exactly appetizing, the strong flavour of some of their meals are.

I recently had the Beef Steak Tips which comes complete with mashed potatoes. Although a bit dubious, I know I’ve had other beef tips in gravy that I really enjoyed so I thought I’d give this product a try.

I’m glad I did because it was amazingly delicious. The meat and gravy were lick-your-plate-clean good and tasted just like fresh beef tips. It was exactly the taste I expected.

On the other hand, the potatoes weren’t as wonderful as freshly mashed potatoes but they were much better than anything you’d ever get out of a box.

However, it did cook evenly and even faster than the estimated 90 seconds. The sizing is also great (although some Americans might find it lacking ;)).

Overall, this product was a real eye opener and while there’s nothing like making a nice roast in your own home and having the smell permeate the air, this will more than do in a pinch or if you don’t have enough time to through together some Mexican recipes.

Also, just a side review. If you’ve seen Deli Creations by Oscar Mayer including sandwiches, wraps and the like and you thought they looked pretty good, they are! I personally like the Ham and Cheddar.

Variety, the Spice of Life?

Date Tue, September 23 2008

When writing my reviews here, I don’t like to get stuck reviewing too many similar products in a short time period so I try to mix it up: something electronic, something technology/internet related, something health and beauty related, so on and so forth. But does this enhance your viewing experience or take away from it?

Let me know!