Spring is a great time for the skin. After the challenges of winter, with its biting cold winds and fluctuations in temperature, it’s time to let your skin breathe and recover. And while dark, glamorous looks may suit brooding skies and wintry nights, spring is a time to be playful and experimental with your make-up. Here are ten tips for springtime success.
Blog - Latest News
You are here: Home
As you know, I’m big on building memories. My motto for this year (my hashtag, even – how New Media of me) is #snapshotsnotstuff (unfortunate, as it has the word ‘snot’ in the middle). As part of this, I want the boys to grab every opportunity, get out there and see the world, have wonderful new experiences and do new things. All this came very much into play recently when Sam and his study partner were planning their big A level Media project. For this, they basically have to produce a documentary. When throwing around ideas, one of them that kept recurring was a documentary about North Sea helicopter pilots (the job Mr English does). My reaction was why not? If we could get the company’s permission, persuade the school, sort out the insurance, etc, etc… At first, it seemed like it was never going to happen, but Mr English was brilliant, sorting things at his end, and the school were very supportive (imagine giving your very expensive camera to an 18 year old to take on a flight to Aberdeen) and very soon, the filming weekend was upon us.
It’s lovely to have a few perfect recipes that you can trust to work time and time again, and this is definitely one of those.
Once you’ve got the hang of shortbread, you can do so many different things with it – it’s perfect for cooking with kids (Mothers’ Day is on the way!) or it can be served as part of a dessert, say, with chocolate mousse or lemon creams.
Last year I visited Edinburgh, home of my fellow food-loving friend Erica. We toured some amazing restaurants and markets and decided to make our ‘Foodinburgh’ trip an annual occurrence. If you think Edinburgh is all haggis, neeps and tatties (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I had my first taste of haggis too, delicious!), then think again, it’s a serious destination for food lovers, with no less than five Michelin starred restaurants and a fabulous array of affordable restaurants and cafés. I’ve put together a list of my favourites so far, but I’ve got a feeling this could change – we’re already planning Foodinburgh 2014!
It’s Pancake Day! Pancake Day is a huge deal in this household, and it generally means eschewing dinner altogether for a major league pancake fest.
Pancakes generally come in two forms: what I would call the traditional, flat type of English pancake (a crêpe, if you’re of the French persuasion), and the fat, fluffy, American type (sometimes called drop scones – I think maybe more in Scotland). Whatever you call them, for us, Pancake Day means proper flat English pancakes, rolled up with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of crunchy sugar (or maybe a drizzle of golden syrup), but if you’d rather go fat and fluffy (our usual breakfast preference with bacon and maple syrup), I’m not a pancakeist (what? it’s a word), I’ve got a recipe for that too. You’re welcome.
I’m ridiculously, stupidly busy. Working from home, with deadlines galore, two teenagers, a hubby who is away on duty for two weeks at a time, an evil cat and a new puppy, means that there aren’t many hours in the day that aren’t filled with either work, home or walkies. I try and find time for myself too, which isn’t easy, but often an hour in a lovely bubble bath with music on and a nice glass of wine is all I need to recharge my batteries.
I don’t know about you, but I’m SO glad to see the back of January and February – all that rain, wind and general misery has left me longing for bright spring mornings, sunshine and a few bright colours. Of course, February wasn’t without its perks, and a few things made February bearable, including:
You know me. I love, love, love to travel. Whether it’s a gorgeous English country hotel like The Grove, a city break, or a Caribbean cruise – I love them all. Being somewhat overenthusiastic about it, though, has its downsides – mostly financial. Here’s how a keep a lid on my holiday spending, before I’ve even walked up the steps of the plane:
It’s no secret that I love my food. I’m pretty active (being dragged round a field by a small and perpetually enthusiastic whippet is incredibly exhausting) but still occasionally I do worry about what I eat. We eat a decent meal every night, but I do have a bit of a cake habit. Generally, I try and balance this by forcing myself to eat a healthy breakfast, at least on weekday mornings.
When it comes to fried breakfasts, everyone has their very own list of must haves. Whether it’s brown sauce, black pudding or lashings of baked beans, personal preferences can be both varied and eclectic.
I love clothes, and as I’ve got older (and had many instances of things being knackered after the first wash), I tend to shop very carefully and buy less things, but the best quality things I can afford. Of course, the down side to that is that you need to be very careful that something suits you before investing decent money in it.
I love a roast chicken for Sunday lunch. The whole (rare) ceremony of gathering the whole family (and possibly a stray Grandma) around the table for a feast, plus the delicious possibilities of what to do with the leftovers, is my idea of heaven. Roast chicken with lemon and pepper is so easy – a brilliant not-much-faff showstopper if you have people for dinner, and very easy to stretch out if unexpected guests arrive. Add some stuffing (try my pork and apple), roast potatoes and a ton of veg, and you can easily feed 6-8 with a free range 2kg bird (about a tenner), or four with leftovers for another meal, plus stock or soup.
I’m a huge believer in living life to the full. I’ve written before about how important I think it is to build memories: snapshots we can look back on and treasure. Years from now, we’re not going to remember the handbag we spent our birthday money on, or the fabulous jumper we spent a month’s salary to buy – what we will remember is holding hands watching a perfect sunset or an evening laughing with friends.
One of the best things about living in Ireland was the amazing food. I learned so much when we lived there, and of course was spoiled with all the fabulous ingredients: Irish cheeses, butter, beef, lamb… all incredible. I absolutely adore Irish soda bread and still make it all the time. It’s quick to make and requires just a quick mix – no kneading, no yeast and no waiting. Perfect for breakfast (you can make a lovely sweet version by adding sugar, dried fruit and orange zest), or if you’re having soup, you can knock it while the soup cooks. Traditionally you need buttermilk, but I tend to just squeeze the juice of half a lemon into normal milk and give it a quick stir. It thickens up instantly and works the same way.
Way, way back, many moons ago when we first moved to Ireland, I started writing this blog. I’ll be honest, it started out of loneliness and, well, boredom. All my family and friends were back in England, and I didn’t know a soul. Happily, it grew and I started to love writing my little online diary, and I began writing not just about my family but about what I was cooking for them. At the time, Rachel Allen was just starting out over there and I loved her easy, family-friendly recipes. While the boys were at school I’d be trying my hand at making pastry, stirring soup and getting to grips with roast dinners. I still remember my Dad and his wife coming over for a visit and cooking them Rachel’s mincemeat and almond slice.
So as the storms battered the country, the dog and I sat next to the fire with a hot chocolate (me) and a biscuit (her) and listened to the rain lashing the window. We both jumped, though, when suddenly there was groaning and moaning and the sound of someone tapping on the windows.
Luckily, Freddie Krueger wasn’t in Buckinghamshire, but unluckily, it meant that our beautiful contorted willow was leaning further and further towards the house – its twisted fingers reaching out to tap on the window and let me know that all wasn’t well. It’s a beautiful tree. In the summer, it weeps in its very own wonky, bendy way, across the front of the house. Plus, it’s Ninja Cat’s favourite place for sitting whilst looking through the window at us with her ‘I want to kill you’ face on.
Firstly, I’d like to say – for the purists out there – that of course I know a REAL red velvet cupcake needs proper cream cheese icing. Sadly, the object of my affections dislikes cream cheese icing. And in fact buttercream too, so I have to be a bit more creative. Using a marshmallow appeals to my lazy, cheaty side, and if you time it right, makes a deliciously gooey topping. They’re obviously not going to look the same as a perfect swirl of cream cheese, but they taste divine so it doesn’t matter.
Mr English isn’t the romantic type, so we’ve never really embraced the whole flowers and chocolates thing, although we do send a card to each other (not really the same when you’re pretty certain who your secret Valentine is). People tend to fall into two camps Valentines-wise, they either love it or hate it. I think that if there’s a day in the year when you’re reminded to tell someone how much you love them, then so much the better. And what better way to express your love than with cake?
The trouble with holidays is that everyone wants something different. In any family, you’ll get the one who wants to lie in the sun all day, the active one, the sightseer, the adventurer… Mixing all these requirements into one holiday is often a challenge, so it’s sometimes best to book a holiday with a little bit of everything. I always think Italy is good for this. Pick somewhere like Sorrento and you should be able to please everybody. The summer months are scorchio, there’s fabulous shopping, amazing food, and a fascinating old town with loads of bars and cafés perfect for people watching. Choose your hotel well, not all resorts have beaches as the coastline tends to be a bit rocky – I like the Hotel Atlantic Palace ( First Choice have holidays here) as it’s got a gorgeous pool area, plus a shuttle bus that will drop you at the nearest beach. It’s also just a 40 minute train ride from the incredible ancient ruins at Pompeii.
One of the few downsides to travelling is worrying about your house when you’re away. We’re lucky, we’ve got lovely neighbours who keep an eye on things, turn lights on and off and even bravely look after the fearsome Ninja cat. There’s so much to remember anyway when you go away: turn everything off, lock everything up… When we lived in Ireland, we had oil fired central heating (expensive old business). One memorable holiday, we came back to find that instead of turning the heating off, Mr English had inadvertently set it to ‘constant’, and the whole house, much like its owners, had baked in tropical heat for the whole fortnight. It had used nearly a whole tank of oil. Not a brilliant discovery when you’ve just returned from a restful holiday.
Some lovely friends of mine were in Florida recently, staying at the gorgeous Animal Kingdom Lodge and I happened to comment on one of their Facebook pictures ‘oh, that’s my FAVOURITE Walt Disney World resort!’. I love the African styling, and the fact that you can see giraffes wandering outside your window. But then I thought about the glorious Grand Floridian, and the quite incredible Contemporary Resort, and I realised, I can’t have just one. I have to have at least five! Read more
Snuggling up with a furry friend or two is the perfect antidote to a cold, crisp evening and for those of us with a family pet we’ll often do anything to ensure their safety and happiness.
Unfortunately, not all animals are lucky enough to receive such care and affection but charities such as the RSPCA help prevent cruelty to animals. More than that, they ensure everyone knows how to care for animals correctly – highlighting common risks and areas for improvement. Those who want to train others to care for animals in the correct way should think about showing their support to the charity now – and there are plenty of ways to do it.
One particularly easy option, which also happens to be a great way to get the kids involved over February half-term, is to encourage your little ones to become an RSPCA Animal Champion.
It’s important to teach our children the differences between right and wrong from a very young age and allowing them to become a champion is certainly one way to educate them in the importance of caring for animals.
Becoming a champion
This new and exciting scheme is run by the and is open to children between the ages of 6 and 12 years of age. It comprises a series of action-packed activities and is the perfect way to keep the kids entertained throughout February half-term.
From animal themed sleepovers to conducting a little detective work in the back garden, there are a number of adventures to choose from.
What do they get?
Applying to become a champion will entitle the kids to their very own toolkit which comes in the shape of an activity pack comprising a challenge checklist poster and a series of video updates from the RSPCA inspectors. These activities can be completed with both friends and family and once your little ones have completed five, they’ll receive a special award and a certificate.
A majority of the challenges can be completed at home, such as baking animal cakes, whilst others can be completed with fellow animal enthusiasts in the local area.
There’s even one small fundraising challenge included for those who really want to show their commitment to the cause?
How do I sign up?
This brand new scheme is running for the first time during February half-term and signing up couldn’t be easier. It costs just £15 with more information on what’s involved and what you can stand to gain found at www.rspca.org.uk/animalchampion.
Visit the RSPCA website for more information on the work of this great charity and for details on how to help your kids become an Animal Champion. The Animal Champion scheme is open to children between the ages of 6 and 12 years and costs £15 per pack/child. The closing date for applications is February 12.
So here it is, then. The new look English Mum. I hope you’ll agree it’s brighter, fresher and cleaner than the old one. My lovely web designer, the endlessly patient Andy from ADD Creative, has worked really hard transforming my ideas, mood board and general ramblings into this beautiful new design. The logo, split into four pieces, cleverly represents all four of my favourite things and I hope, like me, you’ll love the new pastel colours and easier to navigate layout.
There are lots of new bits and pieces to discover, including easy to read recipes, and the whole layout is a lot more user friendly. It’s mobile-friendly too so you can take me with you wherever you go!
Keep popping in as there are loads of exciting things afoot this year – more fabulous travel, more amazing food, competitions, reviews and much more. And whether you’ve been reading English Mum for years, or you’re a first time visitor, I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my bottom. I’m nothing without you!
I wonder if it’s a symptom of being self employed, but every so often I get such a feeling of impending panic, of everything being overwhelming and worrying and out of control. This stressy feeling seems to build up gradually (much like my ironing pile) until something trivial will completely tip me over the edge and I’ll end up having a total meltdown. This time a very minor disagreement about how much of their wages the boys are saving turned into tears, door slamming and sulking in my bedroom while the male members of the house rolled their eyes and went about their business. For my friend Laura it was a row about soup that tipped her over the edge. It seems to be a bit of a ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ situation.
Or maybe it’s just me.
Yesterday I had a proper greedy day starting with lunch, moving on to afternoon tea with a client and then an evening at one of our favourite local hangouts, No 2 Pound Street for a couple of glasses of wine and one of their lovely sharing boards of cheeses and meats.
I was up in London to meet a lovely friend (we work together, but this has become secondary) to discuss travel plans and catch up on our news. She was bringing a colleague and they suggested The Gunmakers Arms in Clerkenwell, close to my second meeting. I arrived hideously early (typical ‘country mouse comes to the city’ type thing) but took my chance to wander slowly up Leather Lane, sniffing all the delicious smells from the food vendors and pressing my nose up against the window of Pieminister. The Gunmakers is just off Clerkenwell Road and I loitered a bit awkwardly outside, wondering what to do for 20 minutes in the drizzle before deciding to head inside. Good decision. I was warmly welcomed (the staff put me in mind of when Jay Rayner described the staff at Hawksmoor as ‘bed headed and tattooed’ – seriously cool), provided with a drink and a warm spot by a radiator, and spent the rest of the time before my lunch mates arrived studying the chalkboard menu.
- Ten tips to get a spring-like look March 11, 2014
- How not to miss a flight March 10, 2014
- Weekend baking: quick and easy shortbread March 7, 2014
- Edinburgh for food lovers March 5, 2014
- English or American: a plethora of pancakes for Pancake Day! March 4, 2014