Monthly Archives: May 2016

Sole Sap Sheets

Category : Beauty


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These promised me the double effect of natural sap power and negative ions, for relaxation and to refresh. According to the instructions, “the sap absorbs excessive moisture in the body from the soles, and the effect of the negative ions in tourmaline powder refreshes your body and mind.”

The packet contains 2 sachets of powder, plus sticky sheets to fix them to the soles of your feet (or shoulders, elbows, back or knees). The idea is to put them on after your evening bath, then wear them overnight, although not for more than 6 hours.

I actually took them off after less than 2 hours, as I found them to be fairly uncomfortable – they became quite hot, and the sachets seemed to harden as they drew the moisture from my feet. They also turned a nasty brown colour, which could possibly be impurities being removed, or just what happens to the tourmaline, tree vinegar and starch inside when they are exposed to the air. My feet were also so sticky when I took these off, I found myself bringing the bath mat with me out of the bathroom, and had to scrub them clean with a wet towel. Not especially relaxing…

But, while I cannot believe these really have any effect, I will say that trying them was an interesting experience and at just S$2 from Daiso, I can’t complain at the price. (See below for the horrible aftermath – if you can bear to look…)

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Carrot Rabbits

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The Japanese have the concept of playing with food down to a fine art. Kawaii bento boxes are filled with cute morsels shaped or decorated to tempt small children to eat their lunch. Supermarkets, department stores and kitchenware shops in Japan all have a dedicated space for the tools required to turn out a super-artistic variation on the ‘sandwich and an apple’ combo that is the norm elsewhere.

Having sent 2 children to school in Tokyo for several years, I have a box-load of interesting things designed to make lunchtime an adventure, some of which may yet make an appearance here. This is something new, however, for which I was happy to part with S$4.

And I can report that making rabbits out of carrot slices is delightfully quick and easy – it took about 3 minutes to make these 2, and that includes the time spent peeling the carrot. Of course you really need a child to make the most of one of these sets (other wildlife including an elephant also available…) but this might also be an amusing garnish for a plate of party canapes.

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Magic Steam Hair Mask

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This hair mask looked like it might be fun. I was particularly taken by the promise of ‘magic steam’ emblazoned on the package, although since most of the rest was in Korean I had to take the details of this on trust.

Once out of the packet it did not look very attractive – the ‘bag’ appeared very big and shapeless, and there seemed to be very little inside except for a few white blobs scattered around. But it fit reasonably well around my head, with plenty of room left in the bag for longer hair than mine. The sticky strip with which to hold it tightly closed was a bit tricky, although perhaps I should have spent more time checking out the mechanics of it before I started fumbling round on top of my head with something I could not see.

The instructions say to shampoo first, towel dry, fasten the bag in place then gently massage your head. I did all these things, then left the treatment to do its thing whilst I had a nice long shower. However, I do have to say that not only was there no steam, but my head felt slightly cold and prickly in the bag and I was very glad to pull it off after 10 minutes or so.

Despite there not seeming to be a lot of product in the bag, my hair felt thick with grease when I removed it, and it all smelled distinctly like hair spray. It took a while to rinse it out, and as there was no mention of applying the usual conditioner afterwards, I simply let it dry.

Several hours later, there was no smell and my hair looked very shiny. It did not feel as soft as usual, though, perhaps because I did not use my normal finishing touch of  L’Oréal Extraordinary Oil (which really is magic).

Final verdict: worth using as an occasional treatment, for the shine, but not a pleasant enough experience to incorporate into a more regular routine.

Nanoblock Postcards

Category : Other

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Nanoblocks – a miniature variation on Lego-style building bricks – first went on the market in Japan almost 10 years ago. You can buy boxes of bricks to make up your own designs, or small packets with the instructions for just a single colourful creation. (Pokémon characters are a very popular choice…) I have even seen the kits, with motors, to build trains which actually run on special tracks.

My favourite, however, is the nanoblock postcard – a greeting with a project attached! Thicker than your average postcard, obviously, but because the bricks are so tiny, not by much. You can write your message on the back, then stamp and mail it in the usual way. The bricks are lined up neatly in a space cut out of the card, and the sleeve which covers the card has the instructions printed on the inside.

There are many different versions to collect, including seasonal specials eg for Christmas, Hina Matsuri and Chinese New Year. This cute kitten, complete with present, could serve for a birthday or just for fun, and only took around half an hour to construct. It is true that the instructions are all in Japanese, but the pictures are very clear and once you understand how to build up the layers using the coloured stars for guidance, they are reasonably easy to follow. The trickiest part is picking up the very smallest pieces…

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Mango Sticky Rice

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This has to be my favourite dessert, preferably eaten at a street stall in Bangkok – luscious slices of fresh mango on a mound of warm rice cooked in coconut milk with salt and sugar, topped with a sauce of coconut cream. Crispy bits as a garnish, optional.

When I see some novel interpretation of this treat, I have to give it a try. Here, then, are 3 variations on a theme.

Nitro frozen mango sticky rice, above left, came from an ice cream shop in Joo Chiat, Singapore, and was completely delicious. It had real sticky rice at the bottom and the authentic sauce with crispy bits on the top. The mango in the middle was a nitro-frozen puree, made on the spot with the nitrogen coming from a tap into the blender.

The mango sticky rice ice cream on a stick, above centre, was spotted at street market beside the Singapore river. It was also really nice – mango ice cream at the centre with a layer of coconut ice cream on top, coated in white chocolate then dipped in crispy rice and flakes of coconut. I’m not too crazy about white chocolate but it worked here and the overall taste was great despite being only loosely based on the real thing.

Sadly, the mango sticky rice spread, above right, was a bit of a disappointment, even though I bought it in Thailand where it should have been more closely related to the real thing. I suppose it could best be described as a kind of mango curd, although the coconut cream flavour made it all sickly sweet in a way the actual dessert is not. I could not detect any rice at all and will not be trying this one again any time soon.

Colour Change Mask

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Always on the lookout for something new and unusual, I was excited to find these ‘magic’ colour change masks in SaSa. Billed as a ‘first’, and (of course) coming from Korea, the sheet mask is printed with a design using heat sensitive ink, which changes colour as the temperature rises. The idea seemed to be that once the mask had changed from blue to lilac, it was time to take it off and pat in the product still remaining on your skin. In practise, however, this did not work as planned.

My first mistake was to try using the mask straight from the packet, which had been in my bathroom and was therefore at room temperature. What I should have done was read the instructions properly first which, since they are mostly in Korean, meant looking for a website with an English translation.

The key point there was that the mask should have been stored at 3-10 degrees C, so I stashed one in the fridge for a while. This being Singapore, however, the ambient temperature is almost always around the 32-34 degrees C at which the mask changes colour. Which it promptly did, before my eyes, before I could get it on my face. I expect that in colder places – including Korea – this does actually work as expected, and would be quite interesting and satisfying to watch. As it was, I had to work fast, with an ice pack in one hand and a camera in the other, to get some usable photos (see below).

But never mind, the various active ingredients (which include marine and plant collagen, chamomile and liquorice) were presumably not affected by the temperature change anyway. So in the end, this is just a slightly more amusing take on the standard sheet mask which is so popular in Asia at the moment. A neat idea, and less than S$5.

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Lava Croissants

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There’s always a new food craze hitting the streets of Singapore, and one of the latest is the salted egg yolk croissant. It’s the combination here which is new – salted egg yolk sauces have been around for a long time, although they are more commonly found gracing seafood dishes like fried prawns. The rich taste and sandy texture are surprisingly good, although I hate to imagine what the calorie and cholesterol count must be.

Introducing this sauce as a croissant filling is at first glance a bit of a stretch, but then, no more strange than offering a ham and cheese filled version of what is essential a sweet pastry item.

The idea first came from Hong Kong, and was swiftly taken up by bakeries in Malaysia, arriving here in Singapore earlier this year. As happens with local food trends, those places producing the new treat found themselves overrun – one café apparently had to stop serving dinners in order to keep the ovens busy churning out enough croissants to fulfil demand. Other places, forced to limit the numbers of these treats available every day, saw massive queues of people determined to get to the head of the line before the croissants ran out. Prices soared… you could pay more than S$7 for a single pastry at the more upmarket cafes.

People are still queuing for those, but the chain bakeries are now also hitting their stride, and Bread Talk has mini versions available for just S$1 each. Of course I had to try one, and am pleased to report that it was much nicer than I was expecting. The salted egg yolk seemed to have been sweetened to suit the croissant better than the traditional savoury version, which was a bonus. With the bargain price tag, I cannot complain, but I have to say there appeared to be far less filling in my croissant than is suggested by the illustrative banner (see below). Not that this was a problem, as the salted egg yolk was still so rich I had trouble eating half of what was really a tiny pastry. It’s not by any stretch of the imagination going to become a regular guilty treat, but I was glad to have sampled this and look forward to the next thing to inspire the local foodies.

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Fuzzy Brush

Category : Beauty

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There’s a lot to be said for the idea behind this product – it is nice to be able to clean your teeth and generally freshen up your mouth when you are out and about. Carrying a toothbrush and toothpaste round in your bag is a pain and can lead to messy leaks, plus you might not always be near a bathroom with water suitable for teeth cleaning.

This handily sized re-sealable packet of mini chewable brushes is designed to answer all these problems. You pop one into your mouth, manoeuvre it around with your tongue, and chomp up and down until every tooth is clean. Then you just spit it out and are done.

That’s the theory, anyhow. I wasn’t crazy about these… the ‘brushes’ are barely a centimetre long and the ‘bristles’ are really too thin and flimsy to do much cleaning. But what I really did not like was the crunchy, minty bits with which the brushes are encrusted, which act as a toothpaste substitute. They felt like broken bits of candy, with a strange, artificial sweetness whose aftertaste I did not appreciate.

The main ingredient is xylitol, billed on the packet as a natural sweetener which ‘helps kill bacteria in the mouth, protect tooth enamel and fight tooth decay’. “Helps’ may be the operative word here, although there are studies to suggest that xylitol is beneficial to dental health. Too much of it can also apparently kill dogs and cause digestive distress in humans, although since this is ‘designed and developed by dentists’ I doubt the occasional use would do much harm.

I tried a Fuzzy Brush one evening after dinner, but was so unimpressed by the result that I had to clean my teeth again properly straight away. I have not yet binned the packet, though. It’s just possible these may come in handy on a picnic, or a flight too short for carrying a full overnight amenities kit. But I won’t be buying any more.

Shoe Bands

Category : Fashion

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The idea is a sound one – thick plastic bands that slide over a shoe to hold it in place on your foot. If you have ever suffered the annoyance of your feet constantly lifting out of loose slip-on shoes, then this must be worth a try.

And technically, they work, although I say that with reservations.

I found these ‘stylish and functional’ offerings in Daiso, the ever-entertaining Japanese version of the £1 shop, for their standard Singapore price of S$2. The bands are sturdy enough not to come apart as soon as you put them on, and being clear they are more or less invisible. Depending on what you are wearing, they could also be covered up completely by your trousers.

That said, they were very tight, although that may have something to do with the size of my larger than Asian feet. I found they soon cut off the circulation to my toes, and at the same time were creasing the sides of my shoes. Which is why I did not wear them long enough to discover how soon the plastic would wear away on the pavement during a normal day.

But if you had small feet, and were needing something for a civilised evening out – say in a carpeted restaurant or similar, these may well work a treat.

Parrot Markers

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Korea may rule the beauty world right now, but Japan has always had the stationery market tied up. There are enough wonderful and unusual items on sale to satisfy even the most jaded consumer, and I must confess my desk conceals a treasure trove of cool and quirky bits and pieces I have found impossible to resist.

Here is one idea which – although I never knew I needed it – I now cannot manage without…

I like to go through cookery books, magazines and suchlike, marking up pages I’d like to come back to later. Particular recipes, some new item to go look for in the shops or an idea for a weekend trip, for example. The trouble is, sometimes I have marked a page, but when I look again later, I don’t remember which article on it originally caught my eye.

This is the answer: cute sticky marker tabs with a detachable pointy end. Stick the point on the page at the item you have noticed, hold it down and pull away the top part, which you then use in the usual way. The parrots here are my favourite, but the veggies are perfect for recipes, and the markers with space to make notes on are beyond useful. These came from the amazing Tokyu Hands, and cost ¥360 per packet, which is so cheap I bought all 3.

(The yak, by the way, is saying “yak?”)