Monday, December 22, 2008

Oral-B Triumph with Smart Guide Toothbrush

I’m not what you’d call a “gadget-centric” person. Until very recently I would do pretty much everything I could by hand, even if there was an electronic gizmo to make life “easier”. To me, the manual qualities of something handmade was what made the end result worthwhile, so I was willing to spend the extra time and energy for most kitchen and school tasks. That included mixing, kneading, shaping and baking bread, grating carrots, slicing French-fries out of potatoes and yams and even taking notes in my lectures. Why would I spend money on something I could do myself, and probably better, anyway? I still hold this view, especially when the cost difference is substantial: in today’s economy and my personal situation as a student, pennies are pinched so hard they’re paper-thin.

However, some things have changed in the past couple years to keep up (or down, as the case may be) with my energy and strength levels, though. I now knead bread with my standing mixer (though you will never see me with a breadmaker), my food processor grates my veggies (but only large quantities, like after this Summer’s harvest), and my mandolin slicer helps out with the fry-cutting (but admittedly not much else). I’m beginning to embrace the world of electric gadgetry, so when I was approached by Procter and Gamble to test out and review the new Oral-B Triumph with Smart Guide Toothbrush I figured I would give it a go. After all, what would it hurt?

When the package arrived, I noticed that the box was huge – for a toothbrush I was expecting a little less package-mania. None of the gear inside said box – and there was a lot of it – was assembled, and the manual provided to put everything together was more complicated than my cell-phone guide! Some careful interpretation of the “universal language” symbols later I was ready to go. Sort of. I should have known from previous “rechargeable” gadget experiences, but you can’t use this product right away – you need to allow it to sit 12 hours before it can be used. Though total user error on my part, it was nonetheless annoying since I really wanted to test out the brush and it’s assorted accompaniments!

The sidekicks to the brush were another source of mixed emotions. My problem is that all the new-fangled goodies I accumulate – while perfectly useful – take up space. In my house, that means that if they don’t get used on a regular basis they wind up in the basement (never to be used, or found, again) or in one of the boxes in our garage’s loft. You’ll find our crock pot, extra kettles, pod-espresso maker and various other implements there, along with a few boxes of soaps, loofahs and shampoo bottles from days long ago. I’m sure that an old electric toothbrush “body” is somewhere in that mess too. The body of the brush is sleek and fairly small, but the base (which includes a storage area for new brush heads) is a behemoth on my tiny bathroom counter. Since I plan on using this toothbrush daily I wouldn’t really mind it being there if it wasn’t for the trillion other things we wind up with around the sink! Kudos, though, for giving consumers a rechargeable brush so we’re not wasting more batteries – it’s more eco-friendly to replace just the heads too instead of a full plastic manual brush! The little timer display (called the Smart Guide) is, thankfully, wall-mountable – I wound up sticking mine on top of a wide picture frame where I could see it but it’s always nice to have the option!

So, how does it perform? The product is advertised to “provide extraordinary cleaning and improves brushing habits”, and I have to say it delivers on both those angles. I’ve always had a hard time reaching the back of my (small) mouth when brushing and my wisdom teeth are worse for it. The small tip of the Oral-B reaches all the way back there, though, and it’s manoeuvrable enough that I can clean both teeth and gumline. The brush is powerful enough to do its job without causing pain or raw patches, and I’ve noticed that the amount of plaque build-up on my molars is a lot less than it was. Another benefit of the small head is that I can get in behind my teeth to my retainer wire – a source of constant food snags and tartar accumulation. For the first time since a professional cleaning I’m actually able to feel the wire against my teeth! With the guide display, I know how long I’ve brushed for and (though it seemed a little inane in the beginning) I now love the digital mouth cycle guide. Every 30 seconds, for a total of 2 minutes, a different quadrant of the circle flashes to indicate where you should brush. Not only was I not brushing long enough before, but I was mostly concentrating on the front teeth... a problem no more! I was a chronic “hard brusher” too, apparently, since the sensor also measures the pressure of head-to-teeth and flashes red when you go overboard. I’ve been able to pare down my scrubbing a little bit, which reduces the chance of gum recession!

A “starter kit” for the system (including the recharger base, 2 brushing heads, the brush body, Smart Guide and 2 batteries (for the display) will set you back a fair bit for now: it carries a price tag of $138.82 US at Wal-Mart. A set of 3 replacement brush heads (you should replace one every 4 months or so) is $24.36 US. I hope that the cost comes down soon – even though it’s a boon for our health the brush is not too friendly on the pocketbook.

In the end, if you are a person like me who is always getting the “you need to brush better” gab from the dentist every 6 months, you’ll like this toothbrush. My mouth and teeth feel better in only a week of using it, and I know my bad habits are improving. In any event, I’ll get the official “mouth report” from my dentist tomorrow and I know that it will be a better report. Oral-B even offers a “guaranteed better checkups, or your money back” policy on their website too, and with their faith in the product so strong (and fingers crossed for a lower price), I’m inclined to keep brushing with it.
Thank you, P&G, for the opportunity!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution

The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution
Author: Alice Waters (
Publisher: Clarkson Potter Publishing (2007) (

This book is, without a doubt, one of the most talked about culinary works of the past year. One of the original locovores, Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame, uses a classic, almost archaic look to broadcast her message: simple food can, in fact, be extraordinary when allowed to shine.
Divided into two “volumes”, in a sense, this work is designed to both inform and stimulate the novice chef in their home kitchen, without the need for fancy equipment, ingredients, or training. In the first part (aptly titled “Starting from Scratch”), the reader is (re)introduced to their kitchen – with discussion regarding ingredients, pantry staples and equipment. Ingredient preparation and menu planning are also touched on, with everything from the casual picnic to dinner party fare covered. Pure, simple and practical advice is provided for those unused to cooking for a group: “interview those that share your table and kitchen. Use this information to slowly expand your repertoire, revisiting old favourites with different flavours or refined techniques…”(33). Simple, yes. And that’s the point. In terms of recipes, everything for the beginner cook is covered: salads, bread dough, soup, beans, grains, meats and desserts. For any cook who has even the most basic of training (by their mother’s side as a child or in Home Economics class in junior high), the majority of the methods and recipes Waters discusses will be old news, even tiring to read. However, these are the recipes readers will return to again and again, if not to copy verbatim, to check the roasting time of a chicken or the basic ingredients for a rice pilaf.

The second part of Simple Food is focused on everyday cooking for those more confident in their kitchen skills. Again, the same basic categories are covered, but this time miraculous transformations occur with the simplest shifts in ingredients. Spaghetti and tomato sauce is suddenly filled with capers, olives, anchovies and chile flakes (266), and the innocent sweet potato is jazzed up with saffron, ginger and cilantro (520).

Rather than overwhelm the basics that form the backbone of the kitchen, though, Waters opts to accent them: lemon sauce for a pan-fried fillet of bass sounds fancy, but turns out to be no more than a light blend of oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt (332). Even the tarte tatin on page 366 is devoid of any spice – the apples prove to hold their ground. If any of the cooking techniques or terms seem unfamiliar to the reader, a full explanation is quickly located in the glossary.

The Art of Simple Food is not, by any means, a cookbook set on transporting the reader to far-off lands filled (in reality) with a team of sous chefs and an infinite pantry. Far from a new-fangled, flashy affair, this book lives up to it’s title in every way expected. If there is any doubt as to the Alice Waters philosophy after turning the last page, the back cover will leave you with a note that everyone who grows, cooks or eats will take to heart: remember food is precious.