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Vaccuming. My most-hated chore and yet, in my view, the most worthwhile as it makes the house feel the cleanest. We’ve never been able to keep up with it and with two fluffy cats, full-time jobs and more interesting pursuits to occupy our time with, we’ve been considering a robotic vaccum cleaner for a while.
I’d been set on a Roomba, for no particular reason other than it’s the most synonymous with robotic vacuum cleaners. I’d scoped one out at John Lewis and was (finally) prepared to part with a substantial wedge of dosh to get one, but the John Lewis store I visited didn’t have the model I wanted in stock.
A few days later, my husband was talking about the Roomba excursion when a friend told him about the Neato Robotics vacuum they had. It ticked all the boxes and to my mind was a better proposition in terms of price and functionality. After some research, the Neato was clearly the machine for us.
- 2 humans
- 2 cats
- 2 bedroom flat across 3 levels – mostly carpet
Neato model purchased
I should say that I’ve never owned a Roomba, but I’ve gleaned the following pros and cons of a the Neato vs Roomba we were comparing before we bought the Neato.
Neato vs Roomba Vaccuming Robot Comparison
|Uses laser-guidance to systematically cover all areas of a room||Uses random pattern and bumpers to cover all areas of a room|
|Uses laser-guidance to minimise bumping into furniture (also has a sprung bumper)||Uses bumpers to bump into furniture and walls to guide itself|
|Squared front edge to get into corners for better edge cleaning||Completely round|
|RRP £449.99||RRP £479.99|
|1 year warranty included||1 year warranty included|
It’s worth noting that the Neato claims to be the most powerful robotic vacuum cleaner on the market. While I can’t do a direct comparison, I was astounded by the power of this little machine.
— David Little (@DrDLittle) April 19, 2014
Within 5 minutes of the Neato arriving (when we’d finally pried Giles off the box) it was plugged in and charging. We had to leave the house to stop ourselves playing with it before it was ready. I advise you to do the same as the temptation will be too great.
On our return, the Neato was flashing green and ready to go. We simply pressed the start button twice and off it went. No difficult setting up process, no long manual to read or programming required. Incredible. As it did the first tour of our home we noticed it was:
Quiet – You can still have a normal-volume conversation when the vacuum is working. It’s barely audible when you’re in another room.
Powerful – More powerful than any other vacuum cleaner we’ve owned. As the pro pet model, we’re astounded at how much fluff and dust it picks up. The dirt tray was full after just one room (oh, the shame).
Purposeful – I love the way it works methodically and predictably, using its laser guidance. You can see its progress and know when it’s going to declare the job done and head off back to its charging deck to
Quick – Probably related to the above, but it takes no longer than 20 minutes to clean an entire room (our living room is quite large and oddly shaped).
The cats were a little unsure and skittish at first, but now they just stay out of its way and sleep as it trundles beneath them while they snooze.
— Alice Little (@frolickingfood) April 19, 2014
How the Neato works
Neato has a few functions, allowing it to clean on a schedule, or as required.
Clean house – Manually starts the Neato cleaning an area. Takes 2 clicks of a button.
Scheduled cleaning – Neato automatically cleans an area at a pre-selected time. Very easy to set up.
Spot cleaning – Manually starts the Neato cleaning an area a few metres square. Takes 2 clicks of a button.
Whichever mode it’s in, Neato uses lasers to locate itself and ‘decide’ how to clean the area. It rotates, scanning the area and then appears to work methodically in squares. It cleans the outside edge of a square, then cleans everything within that square. It then locates the next area to clean and repeats the process until it has covered the entire area – whatever its shape. When it’s finished, it returns to its charging station (or its starting location if you started it away from its charging station).
It does not have lighthouses like the Roomba, but the Neato comes with a length of magentic strip that will prevent it entering an area. Our flat has a main thoroughfare with the kitchen, bathroom and spare room on one level. We then have the master bedroom and living room on two separate levels. We’ve put magnetic strip across the bedroom and living room thresholds so Neato is scheduled to clean the main area every day (which gets the most travel and muck). We then put the Neato to clean the bedroom and living room as we want it – for example, when we’re preparing dinner (bedroom) or washing up after dinner (living/diving room) as its barely audible from the kitchen.
Neato-proofing the house
I would not trust any robot vacuum without first watching how it handles the obstacles unique to your own home. Here are some of the challenges our Neato faced, and how we’ve Neato-proofed the flat to ensure efficient cleaning and no amber-lit pleas for assistance:
– The Neato does not like the IKEA Poang chair. The Neato can clamber over the base and eventually figures it out, but it really does make a meal of it and it’s painful to watch it rearing up and down over the base. We’re looking in to modifying the chair slightly.
– The Neato got wedged under a blanket box which was exactly the same height as the Neato, where it had just enough room to get underneath it but not enough to manoeuvre once under it. To remedy this, we’ve propped the blanket box up, so it’s taller and no longer a problem. Funnily enough, this box was also from IKEA… (not all our furniture is 😉
– The Neato got upset when confronted with two long coats hung in the spare room. It managed to sit between them, panicking and looking left and right. Its lasers thought it was trapped. To remedy this, we’ve put all the long coats together (rather than long coat, short coat, jacket, long coat) so it doesn’t attempt to get itself into a tight spot.
– The Neato tried to eat the carpet in one place at a threshold (admittedly it’s an old and frayed carpet). We’ve now properly secured the edge of the carpet and glued the fraying parts. It was, ahem, quite amusing to see the carpet unravelling row by row into the Neato – I managed to intervene before it did much damage to the carpet or itself, but this is why I would recommend watching it during the first run or two. Just in case…
1 Week On
It’s hard not to personify the Neato and ours has been named Romeo, as he’s impossible not to fall in love with as he roams around making our home more pleasant.
It’s amazing to be able to kneel and crawl on the floor without being covered in fur. We can tell it’s already making an enormous amount of difference to the fluff levels in our home. While we’re proud to be crazy cat people, it’s nice to have clothes not entirely smothered in the evidence.
Now, there are a few cons.
- Obviously, we had to Neato-proof the flat so it doesn’t immediately work perfectly.
- The dirt tray is a little fiddly to remove, and I always fear I’m going to snap it.
- The magnetic strips are a bit low-tech and annoying to install, but worth the compromise for the lower cost.
- We haven’t yet had to replace any filters or brushes, so not sure how easy/difficult they will be to get hold of
So far we adore Romeo, but it remains to be seen how long the relationship is going to last… hopefully a very long time!
Not sure when I’m going to get bored with saying, “LOOK HOW CLEAN THE FLOOR IS!”
— Alice Little (@frolickingfood) April 19, 2014
Update: still not bored saying it.
Do feel free to leave any questions about the Neato in the comments below, or tweet me @frolickingfood. I’ll do my best to reply!
This tutorial will show you how to make a case for your iPad 2.
I have been sewing for about 6 months and this fabric iPad case is my first design. This project requires technical skill and patience (both things I tend to lack, so if I can do it I suspect most people with a bit of sewing experience can) and – above all – a lot of measuring, re-measuring, pressing, trimming and lining up. I want to just ZOOM along with the machine, but being neat and precise and patient does pay off (I sound like my mother).
Because this is a soft iPad cover, it’s designed to fit an iPad 2 that has a smart cover on it. You can never be too careful… If you want it to fit an iPad or iPad 2 without a smart cover, you may want to make the fabric a little smaller so it’s a snug fit.
To complete this iPad case project you will need:
- 1 piece outside fabric – 50 cm x 29 cm
- 1 piece lining fabric – 50 cm x 29 cm
- 1 piece light wadding – 49 cm x 28 cm
- 150 cm of bias binding
- 30 cm of Velcro
- white thread
- thread to match the bias binding
- sewing machine, needles, pins, scissors, tape measure
- Cut fabric and wadding
- Sew Velcro onto fabric
- Pin together outside fabric, wadding and lining fabric
- Sew round all edges
- Pin bias binding along inside edge
- Sew bias binding along inside edge
- Fold, check iPad sits comfortably and Velcro matches
- Pin sides
- Sew sides
- Pin bias binding around all edges
- Sew bias binding around all edges
- Neaten off ends and any mistakes by hand
iPad case tutorial – step-by-step instructions:
1. Cut fabric and wadding
Cut 1 piece of your outside fabric and 1 piece of your lining fabric so that they both measure 50 cm x 29 cm.
Cut your wadding so that it measures just slightly smaller all the way around. By cutting it smaller it makes it easier to sew the edges later on.
The neater and squarer your cutting is, the better. I used a rotary cutter, ruler and mat to get it precise. Press your fabric once it is cut. Press it whenever it is looking a little creased because the flatter your fabric is, the easier it is to work with. I know you don’t want to stop to keep ironing after each stage, but you really should.
By sewing the Velcro on at this stage, you will end up with a neater finish. However, you need to carefully plan where the Velcro will go.
You will need to sew the ‘fluffy’ part of the Velcro onto the outside fabric. It should be approximately 2.5 cm from the edge of the fabric.
You will need to sew the ‘sticky’ part of the Velcro onto the lining fabric. It should be approximately 4 cm from the edge of the fabric.
Pin the Velcro first. Layer up the outside fabric, wadding and lining fabric and try it with the iPad in place to make sure the two sides of the Velcro meet in the right place. It may take some adjusting.
When you are happy with the fit, sew the fluffy Velcro strip onto your outside fabric and the sticky Velcro strip onto your lining fabric. Sew all round the edges of the Velcro in white thread.
3. Pin together outside fabric, wadding and lining fabric
Layer up your outside fabric (right side facing out), your wadding and your lining fabric (right side facing out).
At all times during this project, accept all help offered. If you don’t, you’ll find helpers reluctant to cuddle you when you’re having a nervous breakdown about the bias binding later on…
4. Sew all round edges
Sew a 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) seam around all four sides. This should sew through the outside fabric, the wadding and the lining fabric.
My sewing wasn’t particularly straight and my seams were a bit bulgy in places, so I cheated and neatened up the edges after I had sew them. The straighter and neater the edges are, the easier it will make sewing it all together.
5. Pin bias binding along inside edge
This is where it gets a bit complicated to explain (and a bit complicated to do). By pinning the bias binding and sewing it along the inside first you will get the best – and least frustrating – result.
The first bit of bias binding to add is the easiest because it’s a straight edge. This bit will become the inside edge of your case. As you can see, this is on the edge of the lining fabric that does not have the Velcro on it.
If you flip the flap over, you should see the outside fabric with the edge that does have Velcro on it.
Completely open up your bias binding and pin the inside edge flush up against the material.
6. Sew bias binding along inside edge
Change your thread to match your bias binding. With the bias binding still open, sew along the edge that you just pinned. Sew as close to the fold as you can manage.
All this sewing will be hidden, but it’s important to do this first step as it keeps your bias binding in place and ensure that you ‘catch’ both sides.
Once you have sewn the bias binding in place, flip your fabric over and fold the bias binding so that it neatly covers the raw edge. Pin it in place.
Sew once again along the bias binding, this time as close to the edge as possible. It will sew all the way through and because you sewed it into place first, it should ‘catch’ all the way along.
You should then end up with a piece of bias binding that neatly covers the inside edge of your iPad cover.
7. Fold, check iPad sits comfortable and Velcro matches
Your iPad case is starting to take shape now. Fold it, make sure it sits snugly and make sure the Velcro matches.
8. Pin sides
Once you’re happy with the fit, pin the sides – make sure you match up the edges as squarely as possible (if you trimmed it earlier after you sewed all round the edges, this is where it pays off).
9. Sew sides
Sew up the sides. You can even sew up to the top of the bias binding to make it nice and strong (this stitching will be covered later).
10. Pin bias binding around all edges
The next stage is to pin the bias binding around all the edges that are left in one long strip, complete with fancily folded corner. I have never done this before and found this How to Attach Bias Tape with Mitered Corners Tutorial really helpful. Like I said earlier, this is the one part of the project that may cause a nervous break down but this method is the easiest way of doing it and I will try and explain how I did it.
Open up the bias binding and pin it flush against the edge, like you did before. Hooray! This feels familiar… but hang on – is that a corner I see up ahead?!
When you get to the corner you need to fold the bias binding back on itself at a 90 degree angle, with the tip of the fold touching the outer corner. Like this:
Then, fold it back on itself so the bias binding sits flush against the other edge. Like this:
If you move your fingers back, you can see there’s a flap:
Now carry on with your pinning along the next edge and you will be left with the bias binding look like this:
Carry on, and do the same thing to the next corner. When you have finished pinning all the bias binding your iPad cover should look like this:
11. Sew bias binding around all edges
Next you need to sew the bias binding all the way around. Like before, this is a two stage process. First you must sew along the inside edge of the bias binding, close to the fold where you just pinned.
Treat this as though you are sewing three separate sides. Sew along the straight edges and when you get about a centimetre away from the corner, STOP.
Cut your thread, turn your fabric and start again about a centimetre away from the other side of the corner. Do all three sides like this.
When you have sewn the inside edges of the bias binding all the way around, your fabric iPad cover will look like this:
Fold the bias binding neatly over the raw edges and pin it.
Pay careful attention to the edges, so they look as neat as possible. I read somewhere that you can never have too many pins when it comes to bias binding. I have come to realise this is a truism.
Once you’ve pinned your bias binding in every which way, you need to sew the bias binding in place, around all sides and across the corners. Because you anchored it in place, it should catch beautifully on both sides.
You will now have something that looks like this:
12. Neaten off ends and any mistakes by hand
All that remains is to trim the bottom edges down and sew them up by hand.
Also, if you missed any bits that need strengthening (like this corner) do it by hand.
And there we have it! One funky handmade iPad case, ready to protect and serve.
When TLM and I got married, we stayed the night at The Bath Priory and while we enjoyed the spa and gardens, we didn’t have the opportunity to sample the restaurant. Now, outside of the honeymoon bubble a fancy dinner is a bit beyond justification, so when we spotted a great deal at the restaurant we jumped at it.
Until 14th April they’re doing a great lunch offer, with three courses for £25.50 or two for £19.25. We specifically took the day off work, had a lovely stroll round the Botanical Gardens in Bath and then wandered over for lunch. A pint of cider in front of the blazing log fire in the lounge warmed our fingers while we perused the menu and ate some little canapés.
We were sat in the bright restaurant, overlooking the garden. It was lovely, but my only complaint was that I couldn’t quite get comfortable (but as a shorty with little legs I find this an eternal problem). Soon after we had sat down, we were offered brown bread with honey and poppy seeds, pain de compagne and wholemeal bread with black olives and sun dried tomatoes. Here, the Priory Restaurant earned super bread brownie points for offering full rolls and slices (rather than piddly little slices). AND they left the basket for us. Each loaf (!) was warm, crisp and delicious.
We polished off most of it very happily. Thankfully the waistress came with her little crumb scraper (I love those!) and cleaned up the mess we’d managed to make after falling on the bread and devouring it à la the Cookie Monster.
Next up was a ‘compliments of the chef’ jobbie in the shape of celeriac velouté. I have no shame in admitting I dunked my bread in and it was OH SO GOOD. I do love a celeriac volouté (seems a popular chefs’ compliment) and this one was not only packed with cream, but it had a little truffle oil and diddy chunks of celeriac inside.
TLM had Fillet of Loch Duart salmon with honey and soy vinaigrette and wasabi yoghurt to start. The salmon was uncooked, but that didn’t bother us at all as it was such good quality. I had a taste of this dish and while I usually find wasabi… *shudder* not to my taste, this was actually very balanced. The sweet honey and soy was gorgeous.
I started with pressed terrine of Somerset guinea fowl, truffle mayonnaise and hazelnut salad. It was meaty and lovely. I’m nervous about ordering terrine as I’m a bit funny about the jelly and have had a couple of gristly experiences (ho, ho). However, it was delicious and while I did leave some of the jelly to the side that is just my little thing. The truffle mayonnaise was gorgeous and I took my delight in having saved a teeny bit of bread to mop up the last dollop. Oh, scrum scrum.
We both opted for the same main (and, it seemed, everyone else in the restaurant without exception!). Slow roasted fillet of pork with crisp confit shoulder, butternut squash and Calvados sauce. It tasted a thousand times better than this little picture shows. The pork was tender, the confit delicious (though I do snigger to myself that I’m having deep fried nuggets with a confit) and the crackling crisp. The perfectly square ‘smear’ was spiced with cumin, the little dollops were apple and the cubes (query: carrot and celeriac?) all worked wonderfully. The Calvados sauce was scrumptious. I ate this with a glass of Orchard Pig cider and it was just spot-on for a fairly nippy early Spring lunch.
TLM had passionfruit and milk chocolate crèmeux with a dark chocolate sorbet. While this went down well with him, I couldn’t have eaten more than the teeny spoonful I tried. So rich, and the combination of passionfruit, lime and chocolate just left me cold.
I had petit fours and coffee instead. We ended up sharing and from left to right we had chocolate truffles, jellied passion fruit, vanilla pannacotta with berry topping, almond and sesame brittles (probably has a fancy name). The pannacotta was my favourite and the almond brittle was delicious.
We arrived at midday and it was gone 3pm by the time we left, at which point we were stuffed and very satisfied. The atmosphere was lovely and it seemed there were lots of people taking up the offer. Tap water was offered freely and people were splitting desserts, so it didn’t feel like there were extras being tacked on to make up for the deal price. It was a lovely leisurely lunch and I would thoroughly recommend it!
Having had the same repertoire of dinners for some time, I felt it was time to try something different. I spotted a recipe for spicy mutton pie and wildly adapted it to suit my purposes, so I am very pleased to claim this as my very own recipe. It was utterly delicious – just sweet enough, but with a hefty kick. It could definitely be cooked with less lamb and with only a pie top, making it healthier and more economical. Do give it a whirl!
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp fennel seeds (crushed)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 500g lamb, diced
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 200 ml vegetable stock
- 2 medium potatoes, peeld and diced
- 500g ready-to-roll puff pastry (yeah, baby)
How to make it
Heat the oil in a pan and sweat the onion and carrots for 10 minutes or so until they are soft but not browned. Adding a little salt here will stop the onions browning. Add all the spices, the garlic and the diced lamb meat and stir till it coats and the lamb starts to colour. Add the tomatoes and stock. Cover and simmer for an hour. After one hour, add the diced potatoes, remove the lid and turn the heat up a notch – this will help cook the potatoes and thicken the sauce. Cook for a further 30 minutes.
Cut your puff pastry so you have two thirds to roll for the base and a third to roll for the lid. Line your pie dish (mine is a 23 cm one) and then add the filling. Place the lid and cook your pie according to the pastry guidelines – usually 25-30 minutes at 210 Celsius (you can see I burnt mine ever so slightly…)
Let it cool a bit and it will be ready to serve.
TLM is in the middle of preparing for job interviews, so we ate in the midst of some serious swotting!
I reckon this pie, if fennel substituted for carrots and fish for lamb, would work wonderfully as a dish to serve to my pescetarian friends. I’d have to cook the sauce first and then add the fish just before baking – what do you think?
This year’s was the fifth Christmas lunch I’ve cooked and I stripped it back to greedily indulgent from ridiculously extravagant. In the past, I’ve gone for volume in terms of vegetables (I think personal best is 15). I decided that vegetable variety always proves a bad decision: goodbye red cabbage, peas, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, runner beans etc. This year we pared it back to what we couldn’t do without: meat in various forms, stodgy sauces, vegetables, lots of gravy and Yorkshire puddings.
Yes, Yorkshire puddings are a non-negotiable part of our Christmas, on the basis that my Yorkshireman husband would be heartbroken without them. Lots of people object to Yorkshire puddings because they are a ‘filler’ and not suitable for a feast day. I think that if it makes you happy, and gives the bonus side effect of more meat for leftover dinners, then that’s not to be argued with.
We also took the decision to get a big and happy chicken from the butcher rather than a turkey. It was daunting (what if it ruined Christmas!) but now we’re never going back to turkey for Christmas dinner as long as I’m cooking it!
Christmas Lunch 2010 Menu
- Garlic-and-herb-butter roasted chicken, with streaky bacon all over
- Christmas stuffing
- Pigs in blankets
- Bread sauce
- Leek sauce
- Yorkshire puddings
- Roast potatoes
- Roast parsnips
- Cauliflower cheese
I felt the meal provided the right balance of just what we wanted on the day and also furnished us with just the right amount of leftovers that we really enjoyed. There’s nothing like snaffling a roast potato just after the Christmas afternoon nap…
This is possibly my favourite festive picture of TLM – he’s in his hat, and totally in his element with oodles of gravy (there was more on the hob) and a mountain of Yorkshire puddings.
And in close-up, the Christmas dinner in all its glory.
I have to say that it was the most magical Christmas to date, with a delicious dinner eaten overlooking a snowy garden.
I’m so glad we dispensed with the turkey and cut back on the vegetables. What Christmas compromises do you make to keep yourself sane? What can’t you live without at Christmas (not sprouts… surely)?
- 1 car accident
- 2 house moves (neither by choice!)
- 1 cancer diagnosis
- 8 months of cancer all clears (woo!)
- 1 MA
- 3 weddings
- 1 honeymoon (in spite of the ash cloud…)
- 3 Michelin-starred restaurants
- 2 new jobs
- 2 new kittens
- 2 25th birthdays
- and a variety of undocumented food-related adventures
My enthusiasm for food may have waned a little, and I didn’t feel I had the time to do anything worthwhile. Now things are settling, will I be back to blogging? I hope so.
I am happiest when the sun is out and the grass is underfoot. Throw in some good company and good food and it’s heaven, right?
The reception venue was incredible: Wilton’s Music Hall a peeling, stately old pile.
The food was delicious, a ska band played and the bride and groom had their first dance to Lou Reed’s ‘I Love You’. And instead of a wedding cake, the finest jellymongers – Bompas and Parr – had created a stack of wondrous, wibbling delight. They then brought round individual jellies (I had absinthe, and TLM had summer fruits in white wine).