Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book review: Crochet Bouquet Easy Designs for Dozens of Flowers

Great variety of beautiful realistic looking flowers
 This 131 page book is filled with great looking flower projects. Instructions are clear, pictures are beautiful, the flowers themselves are wonderful: many flowers are very realistic, some whimsical. This is a best collection of knitted or crochet flowers I found so far. I went to a large book store to find a book with yarn flowers, and originally had another book in mind, but when flipped through this book I immediately saw it was the best option for me. The variety and the prettiness of flowers was heads and shoulders above the other books on the shelves. I bought the book in the brick and mortar store, and later saw that Amazon's price is significantly better.

Here is the content of the book:

Circles within Circles
Fancy Five
Off-Center Round
Oval Center Rose
Petal Arches
Ray Flower
Simple Five
Small Flowers & Centers
Sunflower on a Grid
TopsyTurvy #1
Psychedelic Blanket
Flower Shower Curtain
Way Cool Pillows

Daffodil and Narcissus
Flower Bell
Plain Pansy
Ribbon Rose
Rolled Rose
Chic Garden Hat
Blooming Gift Boxes & Bag

Crazy Eight
Fire Wheel
Five Point
Pearl Trillium
Popcorn in the Middle
Primrose Layers
Star Flower
Sweetheart Rose
TopsyTurvy #2
Traditional Rose
Flower Power Jeans
Chenille Scarf & Hat
Born to Be Wild Backpack
Compound Leaves
Corrugated Leaf
Palm Leaf
Rose Leaf
Ruffle Edge Leaf
Scallop Edge Leaf
Small One-Row Leaf
Spiky Leaf
Veined Leaf
Bistro Curtain
Greeting Cards

I already made 3 projects from the book and looking forward to many more. I am attaching of photo of my favorite so far - sunflower. This book is definitely a keeper - highly recommend.

You can find this book on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review  ★★★★★

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Product review: Hybrid CFL-Halogen Compact Fluorescent Bulb by GE

Works well in the situation where the usage does not include frequent cycles

I originally bought this light to use in a stairwell. I was looking for a light that turns on instantly, yet I wanted a more cost-efficient solution than incandescent bulb. A CFL light can save $100 per bulb over its life time (compared to incandescent) but a delay in turning on makes it not the best choice in a stairwell. Halogen bulb saves $3 to $8 (compared to incandescent) but I did not find a bulb that fit my current light fixture.

This GE Compact Fluorescent Bulb appeared to combines best of both worlds. Unlike most CFLs the hybrid brightens instantly because of the halogen capsule inside the swirl of the CFL. The halogen turns off when the CFL fully brightens, saving energy by allowing the CFL to do most of the work. It provides nice energy savings: better than halogen light alone although less than CFL alone.

However after reading Consumer Reports tests of this bulb, I decided not to use in the stairwell because it does not function well when the light bulb usages involves short cycles of use which is how my stairwell light is used.

Consumer Reports found that this bulb does not work well in their tests with rapid cycling: when the bulb was turned on for 2 minutes and then turned off. They found that the halogen part of the bulb continued to work but the CFL part failed almost three times sooner than the CFLs without the halogen capsule. When the halogen part turned off the bulb went dark. This happened well before the 8,000 hour predicted life time of the bulb. However the bulb worked well and lasted within expected period in tests where the bulb was left turned on for more than 5 minutes at a time.

Based on these tests I decided not to use the bulb in the stairwell where the light is cycled often, but I am using it in the basement where the lights stays on longer and is not cycled frequently. So far I am very pleased with it.

This is a promising solution to lighting and I hope GE will find a solution to the rapid cycle usage as well.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Product Review: Fellowes Powershred W-11C 11 Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder

A must have!

One of the way to protect identity theft is paper threading all your important papers before throwing them out. I have been paper threading for many years and this is my third Fellows paper threader and I am quite pleased with it.

1. This shredder cuts horizontally and vertically, so you output is confetti not paper strips (this is the cross-cut feature). Confetti output is harder to reconstruct and thus more secure.
2. It can can through credit cards so I no longer need to cut them with scissors.
3. It can handle staples so I don't have to waste time removing them
4. I like the handle which  makes it easier to lift the shredder top for emptying.
To empty the bin you need to lift the shredding mechanism from the basket. The shredding mechanism is fairly heavy.  While shopping for a new shredder I evaluated console mode shredders (rather than waste basket style like this one) and they were easier to empty because because you don't need to remove the shredding mechanism, however they were more expensive.  This Fellows model makes removing the top easier because it has a built in handle.
5. It has a wide mouth (9 inches) so you don't need good aim to feed it paper
6. It can handle 11 pages at a time, although I feed it fewer at a time (see lessons learned from demise of previous shredders below)
7. Shuts off automatically when full

1. It does not shred CD/DVD. I use Norazza data destroyer and very pleased with it [[ASIN:B000234LAK Norazza DD3001A CD and DVD Data Destroyer]]

This is my third shredder, from killing my two previous shredders I learned several simple tricks to prolong their life:
1. Use lubricating oil to avoid freezing the mechanism [[ASIN:B00006I58N Fellowes Shredder Oil, 12 oz. Bottle with Extension Nozzle (35250)]]
2. Use about half of the sheets the manufactory claims to be able to handle to avoid jamming the shredder.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Product review: Misto Gourmet Olive Oil Sprayer

Works great!

I purchased this sprayer for olive oil so I can control the amount of oil I use in my cooking. So far I have been very pleased with the mister.

I am attaching a collage of two photos which I will be referencing in this review. The photos show the mister disassembled as well as next to a pen for size reference.

The mister is a little larger than I expected from the stock photo: it is 9" tall and the diameter of the bottom is 2 7/8" (see image labeled #1). The bottle is made out of an aluminum tube and the rest of the parts are plastic (see image labeled #2). In the second image you can see the mechanism that creates the pressure for misting. Left-most is the cap that holds the comp to the bottle, second from the left is the white knob that secures the pump to the bottle, the third is the mister itself, and right-most the container.

Before the use you need to pump the cap several times, 10 pumps give you about 14 seconds of spray. If you need more spray you repeat the pumping. The spray is very fine, the pump operation is very smooth.

In order for the spray to work well
1) Fill the container half way
2) When you are done spraying release the pressure of the white knob (you will hear a hissing sound) then tighten it again
3) Put the cap back on until you feel pressure but don't push beyond that point (otherwise the pressure will buildup again)

I store the bottle on the counter, with the cap not totally down as described in step 3. This prevents clogging and prolongs the life of the mister.

When the spray mechanism eventually gets clogged I clean it with Desolve-it Citrus Solution , which is a non-toxic cleaner and works well to dissolve oil clogs.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book review: Knitting Over The Edge: Unique Ribs, Cords, Appliques, Colors, Nouveau by Nicky Epstein

Stunning designs!

I first got this book in a library, it was so good that I purchased a copy of my own as I know it will become a reference book for many of my projects. This is my first book by this Nicky Epstein, but when I was in the library I looked through both "Knitting over the edge" and "Knitting on the edge" and "Knitted flowers" and found that "Knitting over the edge" had more projects that looked interesting to me. It also had a nice variety of over the edge, applique, ribs and cords projects where the other two books were more "specialized".

I love making unique looking projects, and technique of knitting over the edge really helps me achieve this goal. The patterns may look complex, but they are not difficult and really enhance the look of your knitted pieces.

The goal of the book it to show different ways of finishing and decorating the edge of the garment: ribs, fringes, loops, tussles, and more. My favorite are cords. I've never seen the unique approach the author demonstrates of decorating the edge with loops and circles made with knitted cords! I also liked the knitted applique which you see in the cover image.

The book is illustrated with wonderful photos, they really make the projects and ideas in your head come alive. The book has 160 pages, and over 350 edging ideas.

I really appreciated that the author showed how different techniques look when done in different yarns, it really changes the look and it is helpful to see the outcome on the pages of the book before you try it yourself.

My only complaint about this beautiful book that some pages are printed in white font on pink background, and for my presbyopic eyes the contrast is too low to see well. This book is 190 pages and only 5 or 6 pages have a pink background, but unfortunately the table of content is one of them, so I have to strain when I refer to it.

Most knitting books contain mistakes, and so does Knitting Over the Edge.

You can find correction this way:

1. Go to www.sixthandspringbooks.com web site (I located it from Vogue Knitting)

2. On the bottom left you will see a link for "corrections" (just above "customer service" link)

3. When you click on the link it will bring up a page which will allow you to select a book by title/author

4. Then you can select "Knitting over the edge"

5. I am including the content of the current errata at the end of this review

I am working on my second project from this book and looking forward to many more!

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


The current errata includes:


Cabbage Rose

page 97

Row 7 Knit into front and back of st; rep from * to end--80 sts.

Row 8 Purl.

Bind off.



See Garter Stitch Leaf in American Beauty Rose Capelet pattern, page 186.


Open Tubes

page 168

Row 2 K3, *p5, k3; rep from * to end.


American Beauty Rose Capelet

photo on page 88, instructions on page 185


Cast on 39 (43, 47) sts. Work same as back...AT THE SAME TIME, when piece measures 10 (10.75, 11.50)"/25.5 (27, 29)cm from beg, end with a RS row and work as foll:

Neck shaping

Next row (WS) Bind off


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Product review: Canon PIXMA CLI ink tanks - usage rate of each color

I have a Canon Photo Printer which takes six CLI-8 Canon Ink Cartridges. The cost of each individual ink cartridge ranges from around $12.50-15 (on Amazon) to 18.99 in Staples. So no matter how you buy the genuine Canon Ink Cartridges keeping yourself ready to print photos is expensive.

You can get a better per cartridge of you buy them in Canon CLI-8 4-Color Multipack Ink Tanks. In that case each individual cartridge is a little less expensive. Canon package CL-8C (Cyan), CL-8M (Magenta), CL-8Y (Yellow), and CL-8BK (Black) as a pack ($40-44 on Amazon). When cartridges are sold in packs you might think those colors are used at similar rates... but that is not so.

I have kept track of the usage of the cartridges over a long period of time and would like to share these results with you.

Number of cartridges used

CL-8M Magenta = 5

CL-8Y Yellow = 8

CL-8B Black = 6

CL-8PC Photo Cyan = 6

CL-8PM Photo Magenta = 8

CL-8C Cyan = 4

My usage shows that yellow is used the most, followed closely by Photo Magenta, followed next by Black and Photo Cyan, and trailed by Cyan and Magenta. Note that I have a laser printer that I used for text otherwise the usage of the Black Cartridge would have been a lot higher.

I buy most of my color photo ink on-line from Amazon. However now that Staples began (again) accepting CL-8 cartridges for Staples Rewards in their recycling empty cartridges program, I wanted to analyze my usage to see which cartridges I should buy at Staples using my Staples Rewards.

My original thought was to buy Canon CLI-8PC Photo Cyan Ink Tank and Canon CLI-8PM Photo Magenta Ink Tank since they don't come in a pack. But given the usage chart above, it is clear that I should buy extra Yellow and Photo Magenta.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Product review: Jaccard Ceramic 4-Inch Utility Knife

Pleased! Sharp, comfortable handle, snugly fitting sheath.

I was looking to buy a ceramic utility knife and compared several brands of ceramic knives including Kyocera, Cuisinart, Newport, Forever, and Jaccard knifes.
The features that were important to me:
1) 4"-5" inch utility knife
2) Sheath to keep the very sharp blade covered for safety
3) Ergonomic handle which protects the knuckle from the blade
4) Good performance based on other people experiences

I started looking at Kyocera knifes but the handle shape and the lack of sheath lead me to this Jaccard knife that fit all of my requirements. I have used it for a week now, and I am very pleased. It is very sharp and easy to handle, comfortable to hold and it fits snugly into its sheath for storage. I've never sliced apples as thinly as I can do with this knife. The price was not the primary considerations, but I liked that it fell in the middle of the price range for the ceramic knives of this size. I think it is a good value.

I am attaching a collage of three photos:
1) Photo #1 show the under side of the handle. I find it to be very comfortable.
2) Photo #2 shows the knife next to the sheath on a ruler. You can see that the knife is 4 inches and the handle is slightly over 4 inches.
3) Photo #3 shows the knife in its sheath. The sheath goes on easy, but stays fairly tight. If I hold the knife with the point down the sheath does not slip off.

A ceramic knife does have limitations. It works very well on fruits, vegetables, and boneless meat. But it should not be used to cut bones as this is like to chip the knife. It also should not be used to cut frozen foods. The knife should not be used for prying things open or other tasks that would cause the knife to flex. Finally, the instructions say to use the knife only on wooden or plastic boards and not use it to cut on glass, stone, marble or tile.

A nice feature of the knife (since it is not metal) is that it is rust free and it does not transfer metals to foods you cut, and it is the metals which cause foods like apples to brown.

The Jaccard knifes come with lifetime warranty replacement guarantee. Should the knife becomes damaged for any reason, Jaccard will replace it for free with "no questions asked". To activate the warranty you need to register within 90 days of purchasing the knife. To make a claim you need to obtain an authorization number and return the knife along with $5 check to cover return shipping. The warranty is satisfied with one replacement (i.e. the replacement knife cannot be returned for the third knife). Contact number for warranty replacements is 1-866-4478-7373.

Ceramic Knives maintain their factory edge 15 times longer than stainless steel. If you feel your knife needs sharpening Jaccard will sharpern the knife at no charge. The $5 shipping charge is mentioned for replacements, and even though it is not mentioned explicitly for resharpening I suspect it would apply to re-sharpening as well. Contact number for blade sharpening is 1-866-4478-7373.

Overall, I am pleased with the knife and recommend it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, February 6, 2012

Food review: Ristorante Pizza Frozen Pizza

Ristorante Pizza is a thin Italian-style pizza that you can purchase in many grocery stories frozen pizza section.  To prepare it you have to bake it for 12-14 minute in an oven (it is not designed to be prepared in a microwave). It comes in 6 different flavors: mozzarella, mushroom, three cheese, vegetarian, spinach, and pepperoni.  I tried mozzarella and three cheese.  It came out pretty crispy and decent taste for a frozen pizza, but of course not as good as non-frozen pizza. The container is rated as three servings (with each one being 300 calories), but the slices are pretty small so I would call it 2 servings.

It is a decent meal in the case of emergency.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Product review: Chef'n Garlic Zoom Kitchen Gadget

Works pretty well, a bit hard to get all the precious garlic bits out of it
I love garlic, and I have more tool to chop and peel garlic than any other food.  When I saw this chopper is looked like fun and I had to get it.

The chopper has a compartment where you put garlic cloves and then roll it around which forces the blades to cut the garlic. The more you roll the smaller the pieces of garlic you get.
I do need to exert a bit of downwards pressure so I roll the gizmo on a wooden cutting board, it provides good resistance, does not slip, and I am not in danger of scratching the counter.

I don't find the chopper hard to clean (just put it under a strong water stream and use a small cleaning brush), however I do find a bit hard to get all the precious garlic bits and pieces out of it.  Some garlic goes to waste.

It has not replaced my favorite garlic chopper

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Friday, February 3, 2012

Product review: OXO Good Grips Mini Chopper Kitchen Gadget

My favorite chopper!

I love garlic and seem to be attracted to buying various tools to chop and peel it.  This OXO Mini Chopper has become my favorite garlic chopper. It does a very nice job.  I bought both a large and small version of this Chopper and seem to use this small one more.

It works great not only on garlic, but nuts.

I find it a bit hard to wash, you really do have to take it apart to clean.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Product review: ZestNest, Hand Held Zester

Quick and easy, guards my knuckles
This is a grader style zester with a clever shape that saves your knuckles. The zester has a sharp blade and its case is easy to grip.  The grader snaps onto the yellow case and when you zest the zest is collected within the yellow shell.  The downside of the design that you cannot see how much zest you generated as you do it, you have to stop removes the grader and look inside the the case. This is not a deal breaker just FYI.

The grade comes with a cover that snaps onto the grader. If you don't use up all the zest you can store in the case, it holds about 1/2 cup of zest.  It is sized 4 x 2.8 x 1.8 inches.

Overall, quick and easy to use.

New Metro Design ZestNest, Hand Held Zester

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Product review: Joseph Joseph 3-in-1 Design Rotary Peeler

Becomes splippery to hold in use

I liked the idea of this peeler. It offers straight, serrated, or julienne blade with a twist of a dial.  In practice I don't find it great to use, so it does not get a lot of work.

I used it on zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers.  It did a fine job, but it was not comfortable to hold and it got slippery when food got on it.

1. Multiple blades in one tool
2. Blades are not exposed when stored

1. I don't find the shape comfortable to hold, it is only 2.5 inches in diameter, I think if had a handle it would have solved some of the issues
2. It becomes slippery during use when gets food on it
3. Peels collect in the blades

Overall, I think there are better peelers out there and I would not buy this one again.

Ali Julia review ★★☆☆☆

Product review: OXO Good Grips Magnetic Locking Can Opener

Love the magnet holder: no fishing out lids and no cuts

I like this can opener! My favorite feature is the magnetic lid holder. With the older can opener I often had to fish out the lid from the can, but not with this opener. The magnet arm catches the lid to prevent it from falling into the food. And you can keep your hands clean and cut free (from experience... cuts by metal lids really hurt!) by disposing the lid directly into the trash can by pressing the magnet arm to release.

The can opener itself is well constructed from die cast aluminum and feel indestructible. The blade is sharp and is made out of stainless steel, and it cuts the metal of the lid easily. I found the handle (labeled #1 in the photo) comfortable to hold and a soft turning knob is comfortable to turn (labeled #3 in the photo). The lock (label #2 in the photo)  that attaches is to the can holds the opener firmly in place.

I hand wash the can opener per OXO recommendations.

Overall, easy to use tool and is a big improvement over my old can opener.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★