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Vita Vibe BD48 Prodigy Series Portable Double Freestanding Ballet Barre, Stretch/Dance Bar, 4-Feet
Vita Vibe BD48 Prodigy Series Portable Double Freestanding Ballet Barre, Stretch/Dance Bar, 4-Feet
Price: $124.95
3 used & new from $114.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Great barre for the money, February 27, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I bought this for at-home barre practice. I'm giving it 5 stars based on my expectations -- i.e., I don't expect it to carry all my weight, I don't expect it to be a massive piece of studio furniture.

All in all, a great, affordable barre. It was easy to put together by myself, I love that I have two levels of barres -- useful if you want to do leg stretches for example. My toddler has climbed on it and hung from it and it hasn't toppled over. I particularly like that it's very easy to flip the bases so that the whole thing is flat -- I do this regularly. And when it doesn't serve for barre exercises, it's a great clothesrack too!

J.A. Henckels 8 Piece Stylus Block Set
J.A. Henckels 8 Piece Stylus Block Set

2.0 out of 5 stars Overall disappointing -- save your money for real knives, or get better cheap ones, February 27, 2015
I received this set several years ago as a wedding gift. I was extremely excited to have a proper set of knives at last. I had been using an American-brand santoku that I'd bought for fifteen bucks and some small Swiss paring knives, but now I could get some real knife skills going.

So much for that. As a set, it's a dud. Well, not completely. The serrated knives, both large and small, are good to cut with. The smaller knives are so-so, but too heavy for fine work -- I prefer my cheap Swiss knives for their lightness and better edge. The chef's knife, which I had been most looking forward to, is an utter and complete dud. Heavy, super thick blade, but simply cannot hold an edge. I only ever use it if I have a monster to cut, like a pumpkin or sweet potato, and even then it's just for brute force.

I tried everything. I sharpened them myself. I honed them. Eventually I packed them all up and took them to a pro sharpener. None of it helped. I basically just continued to use my old cheap knives that were actually sharp, except for the bread knife.

I now live in Germany and my local supermarket ran a customer loyalty promotion with Henckels Zwilling knives. I got their santoku, and it's a world of difference from these knives. Much lighter, not as fancy looking, but cuts beautifully. I then looked up the different series and realised that this one is made by a sub-company of Henckels for the world market, and specifically to fill a need for cheaper knives. They don't even sell these in Germany as far as I can tell. Well, there you have it. Cheap knives with a nice logo on them, a brand which they're diluting. I don't care that they're made in China, I don't care that they're inexpensive, but I care that I've spent good money trying to get an edge on these things and failing. I'll be stocking up on real Henckels in the future.

Two points for the two knives I actually use.

Raqfit - Belly and Bollywood Dance Fitness Workout with Samira Shuruk
Raqfit - Belly and Bollywood Dance Fitness Workout with Samira Shuruk
Offered by Fitness DVDs
Price: $24.99
2 used & new from $24.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Really challenging workout that is both dancey and gets your sweat up, October 5, 2014
Raqfit is a fantastic workout program, one that will keep the interest of dancers over many repetitions. It is well cued and intelligently designed. Samira takes the best aspects of the ways cardio programs are designed, and combines it with reasonably challenging and varied dance moves from bellydance and Bollywood. I don’t think it’s the best choice for an absolute beginner. If you have no experience with either of these dances you are best off working with a slower-paced program first. But if you are an advanced beginner or beyond, and want a workout that gets you truly, truly sweating but that still feels like dancing, Raqfit is just right.

Raqfit has a technique section that’s about 8:30 minutes long, and which covers some of the basic moves, especially from the bellydance segments. These are good guidelines as to how Samira does the moves, say the hip bumps or the shimmies, in the workout. But this run-through won’t be enough if you don’t know how to do them at all.

If you play the entire workout, it runs around 54 minutes (this does not include the technique). This includes a warm-up, four basic dance-based aerobic segments, two of which use bellydance moves and two which use Bollywood moves, a smooth, elegant standing cool down, a short pilates-based ab workout, and a quick but effective stretch for leg and abdominal muscles.

Here’s what I think is smart, and which (hint to DVD producers!) all DVD producers should do. The DVD also includes pre-programmed “mixes”. So you can do all the warmup and cool down stuff with just the two bellydance workouts, in 36 minutes. Or with just the Bollywood workouts, in 34 minutes. And there’s a “Raqfit Challenge” in which you do everything, but with no breakdown of the dances, so it only takes 29 minutes. So you can choose how to use the DVD based on your dance preferences and the amount of time you have.

That said, I loved the explanations. You know how aerobics/cardio videos will show you one step, then add something to it, then add another variation, and then have you repeat the thing until you go nuts? Samira does this, and it turns out that it works fabulously for dance workouts. Why? Because if you need to stay at an easier level, you already know how to do that — you just don’t add the extra arms or whatever. You don’t have to look at what the “beginner” person in the back is doing, you just know to stick to the basics because that’s how you started.

And this is sometimes necessary. The dance moves are varied, with turns, changes of direction, asymmetrical choreography, movement on diagonals… the movements are high paced and repeated enough to get you sweating, but there is also a lot of work for the brain to do. I paid more attention to the bellydance moves, but they also were not just the usual hip bumps and drops you see in workouts. Instead, there were pencil turns, hip twists on releve, small hip circles layered on traveling steps, slightly Suheir Zaki-ish vertical hip drops… and in general more things done on top of traveling steps than I’m used to in a workout DVD.

In other words, it’s not a DVD you can do perfectly on the first go, but you can grow into it. It’s worth adding that Samira cues everything, all the movements are mirrored, and she often says “the side closest to the tv” instead of saying “left” or “right,” which actually makes it easier to follow. She also reminds you to keep your abs engaged when it’s particularly necessary. I am still trying to figure out how she can look so happy and graceful while I felt like one of those hippos in Fantasia!

Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman
Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman
DVD ~ Heather Wayman
Price: $24.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great DVD for real beginners, July 2, 2014
Heather Wayman’s Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman is designed for beginners, for women who don’t have a lot of time to devote to their practice, for women who can only do a little bit at once. And this is exactly how I worked with the program. I never did it all the way through. Instead, I made smaller programs for myself by combining the warmup, one or more segments of instruction, and the cool-down.

Before I get into the details of the DVD, let me give you the big picture. I had two big question marks going in: would this program be accessible to beginners, and would it really work around a busy schedule? My answer to both is yes. If you have never taken a bellydance class, with a little concentration you could follow Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman. But while most beginner DVDs give you a lot of moves but don’t show you how to put them together, Heather shows you just a few moves, but puts them into a basic choreography you can dance. It’s a different approach to beginner instruction, one that incorporates music and transitions, but doesn’t give you every move in the book.

As to the busy schedule, the fact that the segments are short did make me think that, okay, even though I was tired, I could just do the warmup and one segment and still have danced a bit that evening. Once I got my computer set up I tended to dance for longer than I intended, which was nice, but not always. But here was the surprise: even when I only danced a little bit, when I did make it back to class my movements were smoother, faster, better coordinated. This happened several times, and I was amazed to notice that even a short, well-structured program could make a difference to the dancing I did in class. In other words: you can do something, even when at your busiest, and most tired.

But now let’s get to the nitty gritty. Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman consists of an introductory sections, nine learning modules, and a closing section.


Heather begins by describing the program, how to work with the DVD, and how the mirroring works. Mirroring is always important, but for a beginner choreography, even more essential. She then goes through proper dance posture. Her description is brief enough to remember, and she repeats it several times, and continues giving posture reminders throughout the program. One of the things Heather does that’s unusual for a beginner’s DVD is to explain why you should hold your knees or back in a certain way — either because it affects the look of the dance, or because it can prevent injury. Mirroring, posture, healthy movement — these things are, in my opinion, essential for beginner DVDs.

This is followed by a short warmup. While it is not particularly long, it is also not just stretches. Heather does get you moving enough to raise your heart rate, so you’re actually warmup. What struck me about the warmup is that it’s all done standing, and even with the aerobic movements, can be done in a small space. Great for the home learner who doesn’t want to pull out the yoga mat or push the furniture around.

The Modules

Modules 1 to 6 help you build towards a choreography by introducing around three movements and putting them into a small combination. So, for example, module 1 introduces chest lifts, vertical chest circles, and shoulder rolls. The combo is then repeated with cues, with cues and music, then just with music. And every single one of these sections is reachable in a submenu, so if you want to practice in just one way, you can.

Heather works through the verses of the song, and includes enough repetition of combinations that you wind up covering quite a bit of the song with a few basic patterns. The music is fun, and the moves are cute and go with the music in a clear, easy to grasp way.

Especially when I began working with the program, I wondered: would a total beginner do okay with this? In a sense, it’s hard for me to tell. Heather’s descriptions of movements are very thorough, often even pointing out what muscles are used to drive a move. That can be helpful for some beginners, but others just need a lot of drilling, or more basic instruction. Shimmies definitely take a lot more time and work than they’re given here. But while this video does not offer a lot of individual drills, Heather does give a lot of tips on on typical beginner mistakes or “pitfalls”, which would allow you to self-correct.

The thing that I thought was particularly clever was to offer a choreo that has changes of direction, level, and intensity. When we first learn bellydance, we tend to do a lot of “four of this, four of that” choreographies, usually facing forward (to the mirror). It’s hard, at the start, to see how you can do interesting things with the movements. While Heather teaches a limited number of moves, she’s implicitly teaching how they can be varied and built into a dance — and I think this is really important.

The final three modules do not teach moves like the others. Module 7 focuses on Taqsim. In this section, Heather describes taqsim, and offers examples of how to dance to the taqsim beginning of the song. (The choreo lessons begin after the taqsim.) In Module 8, Heather goes through the choreography again, counting it out, then doing it with music and cues. And in Module 9, Heather goes through the combinations and moves already covered and suggests corresponding arm movements.

Special Features

Under the Special Features menu, you get a series of options. The first is a written list of the combinations. Next up is a mini-lesson on possible ending poses. From this menu you can also choose to dance along with a vide of the choreo taken from the back, or you can watch the dance as a costumed performance. And finally — a gag reel.

But wait kids, that’s not all! Heather also offers bonus content on her website that I had a peek at. This is only available if you buy the DVD from Heather’s website. It’s material that didn’t make it onto the DVD for reasons of time, and it includes:

Choreography notation in an Excel spreadsheet
A stream of the edited music
Downloadable files of the individual combos from the back view into a mirror, in a loop for practice
The same videos, but watchable in the browser
A video with alternative arms and stylizations for the combos
A set of bonus taqsim demonstrations to other music
Other notes

I’ve taken a live workshop with Heather and corresponded with her via email and Facebook. (And this was, by the way, a review copy I worked with.) She has a healthy dose of bellydance nerdiness, by which I mean that she thinks. This DVD shows the marks of her thinking about how to make the material useful and approachable to the beginner in every possible way — menu options for each little section, various ways to practice the full choreo, etc. I sometimes found this a bit confusing (I couldn’t quite tell why some things were modules and other things were special features), but overall, I think having a DVD with lots of different options is a Good Thing, and a great use of the technology.

The other thing I really liked, and that I very much hope other DVD producers will note, is the kind of music used in the DVD. What do I mean? Heather uses three different songs — one for warmup, one for the choreo, and one for the cool-down. All of these songs are on the same CD, Raksa With Amir: Music for Bellydance. You only need to buy one. Oh yeah, and the CD is moderately priced, is available digitally (because is a beginner really going to wait for an obscure vendor to mail them a CD?), and if you don’t want to spend nine bucks on the whole CD, you can just buy the songs individually. And the music is good. The choreo Heather teaches does not take up the whole of Halim Mix, but it occurs at the beginning, so someone looking to perform it would not have to do complicated cutting.

Is it for you?

If you are beyond the beginner stage, or are looking for a comprehensive collection of moves presented in a systematic way, this is not the DVD to challenge you in the way you want.

If you are truly a beginner, or have only done a bit of class… if you want to start putting moves together into a manageable choreography, or even learn how to modify basic moves to make them look interesting, Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman would be a good choice.

Get Bent - Circus Style Flexibility Training with Kristina Nekyia DVD
Get Bent - Circus Style Flexibility Training with Kristina Nekyia DVD
DVD ~ Kristina Nekyia
Price: $24.99
4 used & new from $19.99

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great flexibility program, especially for dancers -- but not circus tricks, May 1, 2014
The first thing to say is that this video is definitely not for people who have not moved around in a while, or for the overambitious who cannot pay attention to what their body is telling them. Get Bent (for which I received a review copy) is an intense program, you go into stretches for relatively long periods of time, and it plays on the edge of discomfort. As Kristina explains in the introduction, you need to differentiate between good and bad pain, and she describes how to recognize which is which.

To be perfectly honest, the first time I worked with the video I wasn’t sure if I had pushed myself too far, and was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to move the next day. In fact, I felt fantastic the next day, all kinds of aches and pains were gone. This has been true every time I have done the video — for me, it works like a really good yin yoga session. But I would still say that you need to be smart, careful, and aware using this DVD, as you will not have a live coach to watch over you.

The first section is a Warmup, which is more of a joint-loosening warmup than one to get your heart up very much. You systematically move all the joints of your body, from the wrists to the ankles, and start to practice some squats and leg raises. I was very glad to have this, as I would not have wanted to stretch cold, but I imagine that doing the video after a long workout would be even better.

Part 2 is Splits Preparation, which consists of forward and sideways lunges held for a good long time, followed by a series of yoga postures designed to relax the hamstrings. While some of the moves are yoga, the instruction isn’t. Kristina carefully guides you through dynamic stretches, using gentle movement and tensing and releasing of muscles to attain a deeper stretch. Everything is done equally on both sides. I find the little “tricks”, especially with tensing and releasing muscles, incredibly helpful.

Part 3 is Splits. This was the hardest section for me, mainly because I can’t do anywhere near the splits. As much as it was difficult for me to levitate in the position that was as close as I could get, I did feel that I was stretching in a way that was beyond the lunges in Part 2. However, the middle splits are something one can practice even without too much of a range of motion. In this section, as through the video, Kristina gives you quiet encouragement and tips on saying nice things to your body. This sounds sort of funny at first, until you realize it works. So yes, I’ll admit it, I now say nice things to my body in my head when I’m stretching! The Splits section would be particularly valuable to people who can already do the splits, since there are also exercises for going beyond a 180-degree stretch.

Next comes the Shoulder Warm Up & Stretch. This was one of my favourite sections of the DVD, and perhaps the most generally useful. I sit at my computer a lot, for both work and fun, and it is not good for my shoulders and upper back. Kristina’s exercises really loosen the shoulders, and she also has some gorgeous stretches for the front of the shoulders and the chest. Again, this section would be worth doing as a break at the office, but would also be worth incorporating into a dance warmup. Really delicious.

The Backbends section will probably be most interesting to bellydancers. Kristina uses a mirror/wall to bend towards, but she also guides you to move from the upper back only, keeping the lower abdominals still. Again, this is one of those exercises I worry about when I’m doing, because I don’t want to hurt my lower back. But I’ve always been careful only to go as far as I could while still following Kristina’s instructions, and I’ve felt fine.

Finally, you get a short but satisfying yoga-based Cool Down. You have earned it. Heck, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably shaking at this point.

Throughout the DVD, Kristina is encouraging and funny. While she is clearly very fit, she is also curvy, and frankly, it made me very happy to see someone on the screen with a body similar to mine, but doing really cool things with it.

So the big question: does it work? I haven’t done the video the recommended three times a week, nowhere near it, so I can’t speak to the effects it would have if you really did it religiously. That said, when I did work with it, I noticed a difference in my classes afterwards. My muscles were remarkably looser, I felt more flexible, and I felt like I knew how to stretch better. I have to imagine that doing the video regularly would increase my flexibility even more.

You will like Get Bent if you have some experience with stretching or yoga, are aware of your body and can respect its limits, and are craving really deep, long stretches. If you can already do splits, you will probably use the video as a maintenance and extension program. All of the program is useful for dancers, but there are parts, like the upper body and shoulder stretches, that bellydancers will particularly enjoy. I also think you’ll like it if you want the feeling of having done a great yoga session — you know, that sensation of everything in your body having been pulled apart and put back together loosely — without all the yogic tralala.

On the other hand, you will probably be frustrated with the DVD if you are very inflexible; in that case, you might be better off with a gentle yoga program. You also should not expect contortionist circus tricks, despite the title. These are very straightforward, well-known stretches, guided well, and with some extra techniques thrown in to make them feel better. But don’t expect to be pretzeling your legs around your neck or anything.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 23, 2014 1:43 AM PST

Fluid Transitions: Drills and Combinations for Fusion Bellydance
Fluid Transitions: Drills and Combinations for Fusion Bellydance
DVD ~ Sara Beaman
Price: $19.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really innovative bellydance drilling, October 8, 2013
If you've been dancing for a while you know: the right teacher is not necessarily the one who's the most famous, the most experienced, or even, frankly, the best dancer. Often, it's the person who can communicate to you in a way that makes sense to your brain and ultimately your body. This is important in live instruction, but essential when it comes to DVDs, where you can't ask the teacher any questions, and she can't respond to the way you learn.

This is why I get excited -- really excited -- when I see instructional DVDs that are crafted to work for different kinds of learners, that are more than just, "You do this, then you do this." One of the exciting things about being a consumer of bellydance videos over the past decade has been seeing how creative producers get, with practice flows, the smart chaptering, innovative material and drills, you name it.

So, guess what? I was excited to work with my review copy of Sara Beaman's Fluid Transitions: Drills and Combinations for Fusion Bellydance. From the first moment I thought, "Oh, she's thought about this. She's thought about how to make this usable and easy to learn from." And my first impression was not wrong.

The focus of Fluid Transitions is pretty clear from the title, but it's probably worth mentioning that Beaman does not give any theory or tips on transitions separately from the drills. The idea behind the program is to achieve fluidity by doing careful drills of combinations at multiple speeds. The DVD is aimed towards intermediate or advanced dancers -- definitely not beginners! -- and if you are one of these dancers chances are that you can take the tools Beaman gives you and apply them to whatever combinations you're working on.

The most straightfoward way to work with the DVD is to play all the sections through, which is what I did. This way, you get a:

Warm Up of approximately 10 min. This is based on dynamic stretches and some shimmying, it starts up the muscles and joints you need to move, but it doesn't get you really warm. I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to do a little something extra to get the heart rate up too.

Isolation Drills, about 16 min. You can play this section right through, or choose single drills from a menu. Here, Beaman quickly but precisely covers the movements she'll be using in the later combos. The drilling is brief -- this is not mean to teach beginners how to do the moves, but to remind you of the correct executions of moves you already know. That said, Beaman also gives little tips on form.

Here's one of the neat things about the DVD: each move is preceded by a screen that shows a written breakdown of the move. Being someone who learns best by reading, I loved this decision. It lets me internalise the idea visually, before I hear the oral breakdown and see how it's done.

This is followed by a brief, about 6 min, Isolation Practice Flow. You basically do the isolations, but all together. I think this part is great, as it gets you into the feeling of moving and putting isolations together.

Now we get into the meat. The first combination section contains combos 1 through 4 (about 30 min). Each combination has that great screen before it, quickly explaining what will come up. Then Beaman breaks it down veeeery slowly. As far as I could tell, for every single combo in the program, Beaman is equally thorough in breaking down and drilling both sides. It's not only great to have both sides worked out equally, but I found that sometimes I will "get" a movement on one side faster than the other, so I'm glad to have both sides instructed too.

The combos themselves are quite short and focused on linking together moves using the torso, hips, abs, and arms. There are no traveling steps. These are small units you then drill like crazy to get your body moving smoothly from one kind of isolation to another. In some cases, Beaman will present an easier version and a tougher version of a combo -- and then she has you drill both.

Just in case that wasn't enough, she then has you drill the combos at three different speeds. Often, she will have you drill something at half time and at full time for each of the three speeds, which means you're actually drilling at six different speeds! All of the speeds and instructions segments are chaptered, so you can easily repeat, and they're in the menus, so you can go directly where you like.

Needless to say, what this does to your body feels pretty wonderful. As much as it's challenging for the brain to follow along, it's such a fabulous, careful, thorough way of getting moves into your body. Even on the first play of the DVD, I was starting to "get" some of the combinations quite smoothly. I stopped and went to a mirror to practice sometimes, I did my own stretches in between the sections, but it all worked. It felt good. And I think doing the three speeds is brilliant, because while my first challenge was getting a combo down, my second was doing it slowly. Doing a combination slowly but still evenly and smoothly is harder than doing it fast, and a great way to pay attention to what the muscles are doing and to each component of the movement.

Then things get even more interesting. Beaman takes apart combos 1 and 2, and puts them together into one longer combo. Same for 3 and 4. And you drill those. Here's what I loved about this. While she doesn't say it in so many words, she's really teaching you how to get smooth transitions in your own movement. You break it down into the smallest possible combinations, drill those like crazy, then combine them in creative ways, and drill those together.

The next section features combos 5 and 6 (about 17 min), and these work a little differently. These are layering combinations, and what Beaman eventually has you do is to do one of the layers, then all of the layers together, then another of the layers alone, then all together, and so on. What part of my brain was still working at this point was fried by these drills, but I also found them really cool. It's basically a pattern for creating movement that's interesting to the eye, adding and subtracting layers in turn.

Finally, you have a satisfying Cool Down that stretches everything out from a standing position. It's about 6 minutes long, so I added some of my own stretches too.

The menus are really smart, really detailed. I love this, I love it when a producer really thinks about how to make the work usable. Moreover, in a separate section Beaman has four practices set up ranging from 23 to 32 minutes, each of which begins with the warm up, takes you through some of the combos, and ends with the cool down.

Fluid Transitions really, really, badly made me want to do more tribal fusion. But I don't think you have to be a tribal dancer to get a lot out of it. This morning I was already thinking about how some of the combos could be modified -- with something as simple as a heel up, for example -- to give them a more raks sharki feeling. One thing I can't judge however is how much of the material or method would be new to dancers already steeped in TF. Who wouldn't like it? Well, if you're a beginner, you might find it moves too fast for you. Also, if you're looking for transitions between traveling moves, you'll find nothing here.

That said, there's a lot to grow with Fluid Transitions. She gives some tips at the beginning for how to modify or add to the drills. But the real point is, this DVD doesn't just teach you to string together a few moves, it teaches you how to think about putting moves together and then drilling them. You learn to take out an element from an isolation to make it work with another move, you learn to take combinations apart and put them together in creative ways, and you learn how to play with layers to make cool-looking dance. What's not to love about that?

(See more of my reviews on my blog -- just search for Atisheh Dance!)

Masters of Bellydance Music
Masters of Bellydance Music
Price: $12.99
31 used & new from $8.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, wonderful album that just grows on you, August 28, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Masters of Bellydance Music is a compilation of fourteen tracks with a predominantly Egyptian, raqs sharki focus. The collection includes classics such as Tamr Henna, Aziza, and Enta Omri. It also brings in some folk flavour with songs like Souher Zaki Fi Balady and Fatme Serhan's Ala Warag Il Foull on the balady end of things, and Saidi Party and Afrah Al Said for when you want to get your cane out.

What really gets me about this album is the quality of the recordings. The music is played with real instruments, and the sound is so clear and crisp that you can hear every single note and trill. Everything sounds like it was recorded yesterday, and ready for your performance tomorrow.

Most important though is the richness of the music. I have had my copy of Masters of Bellydance Music since 2007, and have listened to it many times. Most of the time I listened to it passively, waiting for a bus or dancing around my apartment -- it's impossible to hear these songs without wanting to move. But when I've also listened more actively I noticed that so many of the songs are interesting. They are the exact opposite of one-rhythm pop music, and they do not get old no matter how many times I listen to them.

The only thing that's difficult about picking an album I like this much to do my first review is that I have a hard time picking my favourite tracks. Layali Al Sharq is up there, as is the album opener Rakasni Ya Habibi. Raks El Sheik grows on me more and more as I listen to it. But there's not a single one I'd want to skip! Instead, I'm looking up the artists to find out what else I can get by them.

The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook: A Faster, Smarter Way to Cook Everything from America's Most Trusted Test Kitchen
The America's Test Kitchen Quick Family Cookbook: A Faster, Smarter Way to Cook Everything from America's Most Trusted Test Kitchen
by America's Test Kitchen
Edition: Ring-bound
Price: $28.66
72 used & new from $15.74

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very useful, production value could be better, April 5, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an impressive cookbook, one that could be a real go-to reference in any library. If, that is, it didn't fall out of its covers on arrival.

When I think of America's Test Kitchen, I think of high quality, but super-finicky recipes. I guess they decided to offer something to people who don't have a million years to brine the turkey or gently blow lavender bubbles in the direction of the cheesecake (you catch my drift). They really do mean "Quick" -- the recipes in this book use the microwave quite a bit, and aren't ashamed to incorporate some key processed foods to speed things up. They even give specific product recommendations.

The pros of this book include:

1. Lots of full-colour photos showing you how to perform basic kitchen tasks. Don't know how to cut a fennel? They'll show you. A lot of these may seem dumb, but you know what? When you're in a hurry and don't quite remember how to deal with that piece of pork, it's nice to have someone think of it for you.

2. There are pages that will show you how to make six different things using one ingredient, like Italian sausage.

3. Many of the recipes are accompanied by beautiful, colour photographs.

4. Lots of little yellow kitchen tips give you the rationale behind a technique, or suggestions for how to do a recipe.

5. While many of the recipes are very typically American, there are quite a few ethnically-inspired recipes too. You'll find shrimp and grits, and you'll find Korean beef with kimchi.

6. There are all kinds of indexes to help you find things when you need an idea, as well as easy sides printed right in the cover.

The cons?

1. The cookbook is in a ring binder. The metal rings detached from the cardboard covers when I had barely taken the book out of the box. It is now extremely difficult to use or flip through. This is really a shame, and I also can't see an easy way of fixing it myself.

2. It seemed to me that a lot of the recipes incorporated cheese. I love cheese, but I already know that I can make something fast taste good by putting tons of cheese in it.

That said, I have tried one recipe from the book, a dish in which scallops are wrapped in bacon and served on an apple-celery slaw. It was... ridiculously good. I mean, seriously, seriously good. Like, if I ordered it in a restaurant and they charged me thirty dollars for the plate, I would feel it was a fair deal. The technique of nuking the bacon first made sure the scallops could be cooked just right, and the slaw gave much-needed freshness to the whole dish. And it was all genuinely easy enough to do on a weeknight. So if the rest of the meals are this good, I can forgive the terrible binding.

Skagen Women's 107SSSMP Denmark Silver Mesh Watch
Skagen Women's 107SSSMP Denmark Silver Mesh Watch

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this watch so much, I bought it twice, April 5, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The first time I bought this watch, it was in one of those past-the-security shops in La Guardia airport. I fell in love with it. I get queasy when I have tight things around my wrist, and for some reason, most writwatches just make me feel ill. (And I think a lot of them are ugly to boot.) This watch was elegant, easily adjustable, and the cool mesh felt comfortable on my skin. The clasp is easy to open and close. Moreover, the silver and mother of pearl combination looks good with just about everything, day or night. I've never worn a watch as regularly as I have this one.

At some point, about a year ago, I lost it, and while I've tried just going without a wristwatch, I hate it. I knew I had to buy the exact same watch again. At La Guardia I paid over a hundred dollars for it, which is the going retail rate as far as I can tell, but I got it on Amazon for about half that price. I'm a happy woman!

Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America
Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America
by Thomas J. Craughwell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.80
93 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A fun, quick read that gives you a feel for Jefferson's times, April 5, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I was attracted to Thomas Craughwell's book "Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee" because I love history, food, and especially anything that combines the two. I also thought it would give me a little insight into the history of French-American culinary and cultural exchange.

The book generally met my expectations, though it didn't blow me away. "Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee" is a quick read (it took me less than a day) that aims to describe Jefferson's trip to France, his love affair with French foods and cooking techniques, and his plan to fund the culinary education of one of his slaves, James Hemings. (The latter was related to Sally Hemings, Jefferson's slave and mother of some of his children.) The difficulty Craughwell faces is that there is a lot of information about Jefferson, but not very much archival material that could give us a sense of what James Hemings experienced in Paris.

The result is that this is really mostly a book about Jefferson, his gardening, his experiences in France, and so on. And as such, it is a good read. Craughwell also does his best to imagine what Hemings might have thought of his education or his time in France. Hemings had a deal to win his freedom from Jefferson after learning to cook a la francaise, but as Craughwell points out, Hemings was legally free from the moment he stepped in France. Indeed, it is likely someone even told him -- so why did he not simply claim his freedom then? On this point, Craughwell cannot enlighten us very much, though not for lack of trying. Still, he gives some interesting insights into the nature of colonial food and eating practices (i.e., "we have lots of food, so let's put it all on the table!"), and paints a compelling picture of a key moment in European and North American history.

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