WIN a brand new Kindle Fire with Directline Holidays – closed

So as a regular visitor to English Mum *cough* it’s fairly likely that you have an appreciation for good quality writing *cough cough*…

I bet you love a book right? What do you love? Let me guess: you love a bit of crime fiction? No? Romance? Hmmm… travel? Maybe you just like bonding with your tiddlers over Winnie the Witch…?

I bet you even carry a book around with you occasionally don’t you? You do? I’m practically psychic!

So as the book lovers that you undoubtedly are, you might, then, have noticed the news about the brand new Kindle Fire, from Amazon. This sleek and elegant device can be carried about with very little fuss. It also has the capacity to hold 1,100 books, which would otherwise take up an enormous amount of space and frankly be a bit difficult to balance too.

But y’know, times is ‘ard and Christmas is a’coming (okay I’ll stop now) and you may find it hard to justify spending £129 on a Kindle. However, the lovely, good-looking and very kind-hearted travel team at Directline Holidays have come to your rescue and are giving you the opportunity to win one, RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW! (Well not right now, obviously, they’d have to post it and stuff…)

To be in with a chance to win, all you have to do is leave a comment and tell me the first book you’d download onto your new Kindle Fire. New commenters: don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up straight away as it has to be approved. The winner will be drawn at random after the closing date of Saturday 10th November. No cash alternative. Open to entries from EVERYWHERE!

This competition is now closed. thanks for your entries.   The winner, chosen at random by my son is Kate Wit Wit Woo. Congrats!

WIN a £300 new bed from Time4Sleep!

The Ninja Cat of Death has been up to her usual tricks again.  This time, it’s the corner of our rather lovely leather headboard that’s taken the brunt of her aggression.  She’s often to be found perched on the headboard at a jaunty angle – it gives her a good view of her kingdom and she can spot approaching humans in time to ambush them as they come in the room.

Anyhoo enough of my woes.  Whether or not you’ve got a hideous destructive dictator of a cat, or maybe you’ve got a little one who’s outgrowing their cot and ready for their first proper bed, or indeed whether you’re just due a new bed (you’re supposed to have a new mattress every five years or so, apparently), I’ve got a £300 voucher to give away from Time4sleep.

If you don’t need a new bed, don’t despair, there are all sorts of lovely accessories, or if you want to add to your voucher and spend a bit more, that’s fine too (they’ve got a gorgeous double dark wood sleigh bed in the sale for £349).

For what it’s worth, if I won, I would spend my voucher on this gorgeous king size Como metal bed frame:

…but I’m not allowed to enter.  Boo.

To enter, just leave a comment telling me what you’d spend your voucher on.  Oh and if you’re a new commenter, don’t worry if your comment doesn’t appear straight away – it will need to be approved by me first.

The small print: this competition will end at midnight on 30th October 2012.  The winner will be chosen by Time4Sleep after this date and will receive a £300 voucher to spend online at Time4sleep.com. UK only. The judge’s decision is final. No cash alternative.

****** THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED! THANKS FOR ALL YOUR ENTRIES *******

Sad news

Last week was strange and sad.

It started relatively well, but then on Wednesday, we received news that Charlie’s martial arts school was closed for the week. Charlie was disappointed: he’s mad into kickboxing and as many of you know is very proud to have received his yellow belt quite recently.

Friday, the school emailed to tell us that the reason they’d closed was because of the death of Charlie’s Sensei, or teacher, a lovely young man named Henry.  Henry was only in his early twenties.  He was a huge role model to Charlie, who often jabbered on about how cool Henry was and how he was hoping to emulate him by achieving his black belt by the time he was 21.  Without thinking, I rang Charlie, who was out with friends, and told him the bad news.  With hindsight, I should have done it in person. He was devastated.

We’re not sure what happened, but it’s a tragedy.  This young man had a huge impact on the life of my son. Kickboxing is very strict about etiquette, manners and respect.  It’s changed him in lots of ways, not just physically – he’s calmer and more confident too.

As a parent, I think we’re sometimes a bit full of our own self importance, and often forget the enormous effect other people can have on the lives of our children.  I’m so grateful to Henry for being such a fabulous role model, and frankly to everyone at the Martial Arts School for the care, attention and effort they put in with other people’s children.

Charlie will go on kickboxing, but I’m not sure it will ever be quite the same.  Rest in peace, Henry.

Apple, mint and thyme chutney

Once again, my Dad’s wonderful apple trees have provided him with buckets of fruit that he has absolutely no interest in cooking (or, indeed eating – I mean, how many apples can one man possibly eat?).  He arrived bearing massive bags of fruit (we won’t go into the missing one – my cousin Moon, visiting from Slovakia, got the blame, but he was far too busy trying to smuggle sausages out of the country, so the ‘case of the missing apples’ has now settled happily into family folklore) so I thought I’d have a go at some chutney.

This chutney is quite delicately flavoured and doesn’t contain any onions. It’s not too vinegary (the malt vinegar gives a nice rounded taste) and the fruity taste makes it an ideal accompaniment to both cheese, and roasted meats.  It’s almost more of a posh apple sauce, really.

You will need:

1.5 – 1.75kg apples

250g sugar

300ml malt vinegar

Pinch salt

Large handful of mint

1 tablespoon chopped thyme

I’m not a massive fan of raisins in this chutney, but add 50g if you fancy it.

This amount makes about three jars, but if you stick to the general ratios above, you can multiply the recipe up or down as appropriate (and use any fruit or veg you fancy… pears, pumpkin, onions…).

To make the chutney:

Basically, just peel, core and chop the apples (it helps to drop them into slightly salted water – they don’t go brown), add in the sugar and vinegar and then just bring to the boil (stir so that the sugar dissolves) then simmer uncovered until it thickens – it won’t take long, about 45 minutes to an hour.

When the chutney is at the right consistency, take if off the heat and stir in the herbs.

Make sure your bottles are sterilised, then pour in the chutney and pop on the lids.

The Mad Prof Reviews: the Auna VCP-191 iPod Docking Station

Hey everyone! Its Sam here bringing you another review, this time its of the Auna VCP-191 iPod Docking Station

The Auna VCP-191 iPod Docking Station comes with two speakers and a main console equipped with CD player. One of its best features is its compatability with everything! It has a USB, iPod dock and an SD memory card slot on top. On the side it has an AM antenna slot (for anyone still living in the 70s), an FM radio antenna in the form of a wire and the two speaker slots. This basically means that EVERYBODY can play their music, which is brilliant! I have found the USB slot the most useful as all you have to do is put your music into files on the drive and it treats them like albums.

Right, now to the really important stuff: the sound quality is amazing! For such little speakers they don’t half pack a hell of a punch!  The bass is brilliant and the quality is really good, even at the highest volumes.   The Auna is great value for money at £97.90, for that you get what all the things I mentioned earlier with a wall mounting kit and a remote.

It is really simple to use and is so sleek and modern, it even has a really flash blue LED backlight!!

I would definitely recommend this system to everyone and encourage you all to buy one and be as pleasantly surprised as I am! Thanks for reading and goodbye :)

This iPod docking station with radio and CD player is available at the HiFi-Tower online shop

Lemon drizzle cake for National Baking Week

Let’s face it, baking is trendy at the moment.  It’s not just the Great British Bakeoff that has prompted a resurgence in home baking either.  I think it’s a return to local and seasonal food – an embracing of all things home-made – and I think there’s something quintessentially British about baking.  I’m a long-term baking convert.  To me, baking means home: cricket teas, making fairy cakes at Brownies, bringing those first (slightly grey) shortbread biscuits home from school and eating the marzipan off the Christmas cake.  A home made cake is as good as a hug.  You can’t beat walking in to a kitchen fuggy with the scent of vanilla and chocolate, and knowing you’ll soon be tucking into something deliciously sweet and soft, made just for you.

So what better way to celebrate National Baking Week than baking a delicious lemon drizzle cake.  The natural yogurt in this recipe keeps the sponge really moist, and if you don’t fancy icing, substitute the icing sugar for granulated and dribble over your cake when it’s warm out of the oven.  You’ll get a delicious, crisp topping.  Serve warm with a dollop of Yeo Valley Greek Style Yeogurt with Lemon and Ginger for a fabulous dessert, or slice the whole cake lengthways and sandwich with a layer of lemony buttercream (add the zest and juice of ½ a lemon to buttercream made with 200g icing sugar and 100g butter) for a cake fit to grace any school fete cake stall!

Check out Yeo Valley’s recipe pages for lots of inspiration this week to celebrate all things bake and beautiful.

 

Get snapping on Instagram for Love Food Give Food #offthetable #lovefoodgivefood

Are you a bit of an Instagram fan?  If so, you’ll like this.

Today is World Food Day, and I’ve teamed up with Action Against Hunger, who are once again running  Love Food Give Food, inviting food lovers across the UK to raise funds to feed some of the world’s poorest children.

I’ve volunteered you (you’re welcome) to help a bit.  All you have to do is share your food photography with the world.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s something you made for dinner, or something delicious you’ve been served in a restaurant, just snap away and use the Instagram hashtags #offthetable (this is our own personal hashtag, so spread it around!) and #lovefoodgivefood.

The snapper of the best photo will get an invitation worth £100, to Action Against Hunger’s Diwali Banquet on Sunday 18th November 2012, with a fabulous Champagne Taittinger reception, and food cooked by chefs from, amongst other places, Cinnamon Kitchen, and this year’s Masterchef Winner, Shelina Permalloo.  Action Against Hunger’s fantastic corporate partner  unearthed®, will also be submitting the top 20 entries into the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year Awards, with a prize fund of £5,000!

I very rarely get involved in charity things, but this one is so important, so please, please take five minutes to snap a fab foodie shot.  This year, the Government has pledged to match all donations made in September, October and November pound for pound.  This money can do amazing things to help children battling hunger in places like Burkina Faso, Niger and Liberia.

Even if you’re not an Instagram fan, please do donate to this worthy cause.

All pictures must be submitted by midnight on Sunday 28th October and the winners will be announced on Wednesday 31 October.  You must use both tags (so we can find your picture, and show it to the world).  The judges’ decision is, as always with these things, final, and your prize cannot be exchanged for alternative things (like cash).  Full T&Cs:  http://www.lovefoodgivefood.org/show-us-your-dish-photo-competition/

A winter wonderland at Center Parcs this Christmas

What does Christmas mean to you? For me it’s the scent of pine, frosty walks, tinsel and glitter, cinnamon and spice, the odd present or two and food food food! It’s different for everyone: maybe you’re planning a big get together, musing about going away or maybe it’s just the two of you, planning a quiet day.

If you’re undecided, I think I’ve found the perfect Christmas break. Center Parcs open right through the festive season, so you can go for a weekend to build up a bit of excitement for the big day, meet friends and family, or stay over Christmas.  They’ve got really lovely festive things going on across all the Parcs, including *gulp* real, live reindeer!

You can stay in a villa, a luxury lodge or even – and I’m seriously tempted by this – a treehouse! (at Sherwood Forest and Longleat Forest).  All the different types of accommodation have well equipped kitchens, but if you don’t fancy cooking, the different restaurants, including Café Rouge, Bella Italia and the Grand Café, to name but a few (they differ depending on the parc) have special menus, including Christmas lunch and New Year’s Eve dinners.

Each parc is planning their own pantomime (Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a bit of ‘he’s BEHIND you!’), the kids can visit Santa in his very own Woodland Workshop, and there are spectacular fireworks to round off a magical stay.

Now who’s going to take me to Center Parcs for Christmas? Come on, hands up…

For more information on weekend breaks and Christmas holidays at Center Parcs, just follow the links.

 

Review: Vax Voice Consumer Testing: The new Vax Air3

So as you’ll know if you read the last review, I’m part of the Vax Voice team.  Basically I get to try out Vax products and give honest feedback about them.  This time  it was the brand new Vax Air 3, currently the lightest full size multi cyclonic upright in the world.

Lifting the Vax Air 3 out of the box I was struck immediately by two things: one, how very light it is (just 4.8kg), and two, that there weren’t tons of parts to fit together.  I’m often daunted by machines that have loads of bits and pieces to fit together and really complicated instructions, but this is a real ‘plug and play’.  All  you have to do is stick the handle into the body of the machine, adjust it to your height, and you’re away.

I’m very, very fond of my day to day hoover, the Vax Air Reach, but this is a serious contender for my vacuumly affections.  As well as the lightness, it’s got a funky swivelly head (officially called ‘air motion technology’) which means it can twist and turn around any object and, for lazy vacuumers like my good self, this means a lot less moving of chairs/teenagers/whatever, and frankly anything that helps get the job done quicker is good in my book.

It passed the stairs test with flying colours but, although the stretchy tube thing is long enough to reach from the top to the bottom of the stairs, I found I didn’t stretch it out, as the Air3 was so light, I carried up the stairs with me, resting it on the step above and holding it with one hand as I cleaned with the other.  It’s nice and powerful too, at 225 air watts, combatting feathers easily (did I mention the feather situation?  We have a feather-stuffed sofa, and often vacuum cleaners won’t pick up the little feathers as the get embedded in the carpet) and if you’re the sneezy type it has H12 HEPA filters which, in layman’s terms means it filters very tiny dust particles, pollen, etc.

My verdict?  It’s not cheap, (£249.99) but if you want a really light, really powerful vacuum cleaner, especially if you have pets or allergies, this is a great choice.

Vax are starting their secret sale this Friday.   There’ll be up to 80% off vacuums, carpet washers, steam cleaners, solutions and spare parts on vaxsale.co.uk and you can only gain entry with password STAFFSALE12.  So keep it to yourself eh?

For more information on the Vax Air3 click here.

Big thanks for Vax for providing the machine for review.

For more information, check out www.vax.co.uk.

Berry meringue pie for Grandma’s birthday (alternatively titled: when Freddy Mercury came for dinner’)

Yesterday was MENTAL.  The mentalness started early when we woke up to find that our poor Mad Professor, Sam had had an allergic reaction overnight to the plaster on his face and now had a chin full of blisters.  This caused so much hilarity ‘stop making me laugh, you bastards… OMG my chin looks like lasagne‘ that we were all late for school.

The madness continued into the evening when we realised that we’d better tidy up in readiness for our celebration for English Grandma’s birthday.  Stinky socks were thrown into bedrooms, balloons were hastily inflated (‘not two pink ones, they look like… erm… well, y’know…‘) and bags containing humming sports kits were hurled into the garage.  We spritzed a bit of air freshener around. It was fine, honest.

My brother, IJ, is my wine guru (he is generally cursed for our regular and massive Majestic Wine bills) and brought along a delectable bottle of Aussie Shiraz: Jim Barry The Lodge Hill 2010 (highly recommended). We then ordered the biggest Chinese takeaway known to man (the woman at the takeaway nearly passed out as she took the order).  My nephew and niece, the gorgeous Jackson (who was a bit late after taking part in a Queen tribute band at his school music evening) and impossibly glamorous Turtle joined the hilarity and soon we were wrestling (well, THEY were wrestling), laughing, cracking backs (the Death Wish Dude is good at this, but it made me feel a bit faint) and generally jabbering away.

Turtle and the DWD did an impressive job of lighting about a thousand candles (luckily, Grandma wasn’t offended) and in the process managed to burn a bit of meringue and quite a lot of each other, but no matter, soon we were gathered round the table, squeezed in on random garden chairs, Sam with his lasagne chin and Freddie Mercury with his sharpie moustache, singing happy birthday.

It took a while to blow all those candles out, mind you..

Berry Meringue Pie

For the sweet shortcrust pastry, you’ll need:

200g cold butter

400g plain flour

Pinch salt

1tbsp caster sugar

1 egg

2 or 3 tbsp cold water

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.  It’s easiest to do this in the food processor but you can do it by hand if you’re not as lazy as me.

Chop your cold butter into squares and add it to the flour, salt and sugar.  Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly, adding a tablespoonful or two of water until it just comes together.

Flour the work surface and squish the mixture together into a ball.  Wrap in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for about 20 mins.

When it’s rested, flour the work surface, and your rolling pin, and roll it out to about 5-6mm thick, then roll it onto your rolling pin and unroll over your flan dish or baking tin  (about 24cm should do it).  When it all breaks apart, swear a bit and kind of patch it together. Nobody will notice.  Push it in to the edges and trim the top.

Now to bake it blind: scrunch up a bit of greaseproof paper, then smooth it over the pastry and pour in some baking beans – you can use ceramic or whatever. I’ve got some old dried beans – for about 15 minutes.

Then, take the baking beans out and pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes, just to crisp up the base.

For the berry curd:

Couple of handfuls of berries (fresh or frozen)

100g butter

150g caster sugar

2 eggs, plus 1 yolk (save for the meringue)

For this curd recipe, you need roughly 6 tablespoons of concentrated, sharp juice.  I had a small bag of mixed berries left over from fruit picking during the summer, but you can use lemon juice, lime juice, whatever…  For the pie to work well, the juice needs to be acidic, so if you’re using fresh, sweet fruit, add a little lemon juice. Just keep the quantities the same.

It’s easiest to extract the juice by heating the berries up in a pan.  Once they’re going squishy, let them sit in a sieve over a bowl so you can catch the juice.

Take a saucepan and bung in the butter, juice, zest (if using citrus fruits) and caster sugar.  Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined.  Now, take your warm juice/butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs.  Now bung that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and simmering until the mixture thickens.  As usual, make sure there’s someone behind you at this point shouting ‘WHISK! WHISK FASTER!’ – I’m SO going to record myself doing this so you can play it as you whisk.

Turn off the heat and leave to cool.  Remember to just stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on.  When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry case and pop into the fridge to cool.

For the meringue:

4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

Pinch of cream of tartar if you have it

Whisk the eggs in a very clean bowl until they form firm peaks, then keep whisking while you add the sugar, spoon by spoon, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is thick and glossy.  Give it a pinch between your fingers – it shouldn’t feel gritty.  Now pipe (or just spoon) it all on top of the pie.

Bake in the very low oven (gas 2/150 degrees) for about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how squelchy you like your meringue.   If it’s a Special Birthday Meringue Pie, you can decorate it (we frosted some berries in granulated sugar) and add candles.

 

WIN: £100 voucher from Vertbaudet

Although my children are teenagers, I seem to be surrounded by babies at the moment – several of my friends have had babies and I’m spending rather a lot of time oohing and ahhing over adorable baby videos (I am NOT broody, I am NOT broody…).

Just in time, then, the lovely chaps at Verdbaudet have offered one of my lucky readers an e-voucher worth £100 to spend on their website.  Their children’s nursery and bedroom stuff is absolutely adorable, but if your children are older, don’t despair, because their range goes right up to 14 years.

Just leave a comment to enter and you’ll be in with a chance of winning.

The small print: This competition ends on Sunday 14th October.  Winner will be chosen at random after this date and will receive a £100 e-voucher to spend online at Vertbaudet.co.uk.  UK only. No cash alternative.

 

*******This competition is now closed.  Well done to Lynn who bagged herself an e-voucher worth £100!*******

Gorgeous Guernsey and Heavenly Herm – our foodie weekend away

Back, then, from our wonderful weekend, we’ve had time to reflect upon Guernsey, and what it can offer the traveller – be they family, couple, group or solo.

The first thing that struck us both, having enjoyed each other’s company, sans children, for the first time in a good few years, is that it’s a wonderful place for a weekend getaway.  But then, it’s good for everyone.  Before I explain why, let me tell you a little about this teeny island nestled off the south coast of England, nearer, in fact, to Normandy than the UK:

Although Guernsey has strong ties with France (it was, in fact, French up until 1066, but I won’t bore you with a history lesson), Guernsey is not French. Nor, is it English: it’s a self governing crown dependency, if you must know.  The population, and I found this amazing, is about the same as, say Rugby: 62,000, spread across an island that is just 30 square miles.  Guernsey is a bit like a wedge of cheese, with high cliffs on the south east side, sloping down to level ground on the north west.  There are huge tides here – meaning that the sea goes out a really long way, also meaning that the waters are very clear and clean, meaning awesome shellfish and happy sea bass, as well as making the water lovely for swimming.

Which brings me neatly on to why Guernsey is a fabulous summer destination for families.  Just a 45 minute flight from Gatwick (we flew Aurigny, who were amazingly courteous, ran like clockwork, and cost about £100 return per person), or a short ferry ride, and you’re on an island that boasts better weather than the UK and the most glorious, clean beaches.  What you won’t get is the ‘kiss me quick’ hat, tatty seaside resorts that put a lot of people off holidaying in the UK.  Guernsey is, well, classy.  In the harbour town of St Peter Port, the little boutique shops, restaurants, cafés and immaculate streets reminded me of Marlow, a well to do town, proud of itself, but in an understated way.

So I thought what I’d do is give you a perfect weekend in Guernsey (tried, tested and scoffed by my lubly Hubby and I) to give you a taster.  If you can make it for a week, even better, but here’s my perfect weekend:

Getting there: fly Aurigny.com from Gatwick and pick up a hire car at the airport, or ferry over from Portsmouth with your own car.

Accommodation: there’s everything on Guernsey from very posh five star hotels to lovely B&Bs (for fab beachy holidays, check out Waves, which is very stylish self-catering accommodation on glorious Vazon Bay, or stay in St Peter Port where there is a wide range of hotels – check visitguernsey.com for more info).  We based ourselves in St Peter Port, but being such a small island, everywhere is easily accessible.

FRIDAY

On arrival, have a drive around the island – you can’t really get lost – if the sun’s out, seek out the glorious beaches, often hidden away down little ‘park and walk’ lanes, or strike out along the stunning cliff paths and on the way, check out all manner of Nazi bunkers (from the occupation, more of this later), Neolithic tombs, The Little Chapel and much more.  Stop and see what people are selling in their ‘hedge veg’ stalls – makeshift shops where the locals sell their fruit, veg, flowers and – in lovely Mandy Girard’s case – cheese from her herd of Golden Guernsey Goats.  For lunch try The Hideaway at the Best Western Moores Central Hotel, Le Pollet, St Peter Port, for excellent local crab sandwiches and home made cakes, all served on a gorgeously sunny outdoor terrace.

In the afternoon, have a wander around the cobbled streets of St Peter Port where there is amazing shopping.  If you get tired, pop in to the Ship and Crown pub on the harbour front, for a pint of the local Rocquette cider and check out the shipwreck photos in the bar.

In the evening, book a table at Red Grill House on the harbour front.  Be prepared to be stunned by their amazing wine list – several pages long – but don’t worry, the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable should you need help choosing.  They also have a fabulous array of steaks, sold by weight, and generally have fresh fish of the day.  Leave room to share their incredible tarte tatin before waddling along the twinkly harbour front back to your hotel.

SATURDAY

Head to the beach!

OR

Bimble over to Sausmarez Manor (pronounced ‘Summeray’, five minutes’ drive) where there is a great farmers’ market on a Saturday morning. Afterwards, explore the manor house and take a leisurely walk around the grounds where you’ll discover all manner of sculptures as well as beautiful gardens.

OR:

Head off to Herm Island (herm.com) on the ferry from the harbour and spend a day enjoying gorgeous, Caribbean-like beaches on a proper Famous Five island complete with bracken-edged cliff paths and azure water.  There are no cars on Herm and only 60 odd residents, so it’s a really peaceful place to while away the day.

We were escorted around the island by the lovely, and very knowledgeable Jonathan Watson who showed us all the accommodation on the island: from the 40-bed White House Hotel, perched above the harbour, with its Conservatory Restaurant (amazing wine list) and its attached Ship Inn brasserie, to self catering cottages and log cabins.  There’s also a campsite with shop facilities during the summer (they’ll even get your shopping in for you so it’s there when you arrive).  You can walk the cliff paths around the island in about a couple of hours, or if you fancy a shorter walk, cut across.

 

When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Mermaid Tavern and order the home made fish finger doorsteps with fat chips, battered with the local Herm Ale – you won’t be disappointed).  It’s a truly fabulous place to spend a holiday, where you really can let the kids have as much freedom as they want, but if you can’t manage it, do spend a day there (take note of the last ferry times, otherwise you’ll find yourself castaway!).

Back on Guernsey, book a table at Christie’s, tucked away on Lower Pollet (which runs parallel to the harbour front).  There’s an amazing atmosphere on a Saturday evening (ask for a booth at the back overlooking the harbour terrace – make sure you book!) – order a dozen oysters while you peruse the menu (their Tennerfest menu – loads of the hotels and restaurants do menus for a tenner during this six week period – is completely fabulous).

If you’re up for a few cocktails, head back to Red (just two minutes’ walk) and go upstairs to their cocktail bar, where the doors to the terrace are open in the summer, and quaff a few cocktails while watching the boats bob on the harbour.  I recommend the Bramble (gin, blackberry liqueur.. other stuff…).  I do not recommend drinking three.

SUNDAY

Nursing a slightly aching head, why not wander along the harbour to Castle Cornet, a real boys-own castle (hold your ears for the firing of the noon day gun!) complete with turrets and cannons.  The castle houses five museums with all sorts of interactive stuff kids will love, plus, you can stand high up on the fortress roof surveying the sea and pretend to be Jack Sparrow (or not).

If you’re flagging, pop into Boulangerie Victor Hugo for amazing pastries (59 Lower Pollet, boulangerie.gg).

Don’t miss the La Vallette Underground Military Museum, also walking distance from the harbour.  Set in actual tunnels used by the Nazis for storing fuel during the occupation, the place is an amazing trove of memorabilia, not just from WWII, but right back to Victorian times.  Kids will love the plethora of uniforms, guns and medals and adults will, as we did, find some of the things (letters home from family members sent to prisoner of war camps and tales of life during the occupation) very poignant.  A moving place and well worth a visit.

For your final lunch, head to Le Petit Bistro, just on the corner of Le Truchot and Lower Pollet where you’ll find good wines (or great coffee) and adorable French staff.  Feast on ‘Le Club’ sandwiches with extra ham or smoked salmon and share some frites.  Delightful.

Finally, head sadly to the airport and vow to return to spend time in the summer on some of those spectacular beaches.

For more information on Tennerfest, which runs until November 11th this year, click on tennerfest.com

Huge thanks for our Gold accredited guide Gill, who was a mine of information and answered all my stupid questions, and to Visit Guernsey for sharing their beautiful island with us.  I’d keep quiet if it was mine.

 

How to make chocolate brownies: an easy, step by step guide

There’s no getting away from it: brownies are yummy.  They’re also incredibly easy to make with basic ‘store cupboard’ ingredients.  I make these at least once a week, if not more, and their gorgeous, slightly squidgy fudginess is just perfect as an afternoon treat or poshed up with some whipped cream as an easy dessert.  Here’s how it’s done.

A word about chocolate

Firstly, a little note about chocolate.  Don’t, whatever you do, use cooking chocolate.  In fact, don’t EVER use it for anything, it’s poo.  Having said that, you don’t need to spend a fortune either.  Purists will recommend 70% dark chocolate, and yes that gives a lovely result, but I always keep a couple of bars of Bourneville in the cupboard, and I find it the perfect dark chocolate for cooking: not too bitter, but full of flavour.

Right, then.  On to the recipe:

How to make chocolate brownies:

You will need:

200g dark chocolate

170g salted butter (or add a pinch of salt if using unsalted)

3 free range eggs (room temperature is always better)

200g soft brown sugar (caster is fine if you don’t have any)

110g plain flour

So firstly, assemble all your ingredients together, and preheat the oven to gas 4/180 degrees.

The method

Step one: melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie (basically, a heatproof bowl (so not a plastic one) over a saucepan of just-simmering water – don’t let the bottom of the bowl come into contact with water).  Turn the water off when it’s just bubbling and stir the mixture gently until it’s combined.  Take it off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature (if you pour very hot chocolate into the eggy mixture, you risk getting blobs of scrambled egg in your brownies. Ick).

(c) Englishmum.com

Step two: meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale, light and frothy.  There is no raising agent in brownies, so the air whisked in at this stage will stop them being a big chocolate brick.

Step three: pour in the cooled chocolate/butter mixture and stir well.

Step four: lastly, add in the flour and any extras you’re adding (nuts… raisins… smarties… whatever, see below).  Stir briefly until the flour disappears.

Baking

I use a square silicone cake ‘tin’, given a little spritz of cake release spray, but any square or rectangular tin will do.  Make sure you line it very well as the brownies will stick.

Step five:  bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is cracked and shiny.  The centre should still be slightly soft and squidgy.

And that’s it. You are a brownie baker.  Reward yourself with a massive slab of brownie, served warm with ice cream (or if you’re serving as a dessert, whisk some cream with a bit of icing sugar and a slug of booze) or allow to cool and place in an airtight container.

Variations

So once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, you can do all sorts of wonderful things with brownies:

  • Try folding in 50g of white chocolate buttons, or a chopped up fudge bar
  • or add 50g almonds, or macademia nuts, or any nuts
  • Add 50g raisins soaked in a little rum, then drained
  • Replace 50g of the butter with peanut butter…
  • Chuck in a couple of handfuls of Malteasers
  • Stir in a couple of tablespoons of marmalade or cherry jam
  • Dot the top with fresh cherries, pushing them gently into the mixture
And when they’ve come out of the oven, you can drizzle them with chocolate, stack them and sandwich them with ganache… whatever you like.  If you’re feeling ultra-decadent, you can even whip up a cookie dough topping for them:
Cookie Dough Topping
130g butter, softened

130g muscovado sugar

100g caster sugar

4 tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

200g plain flour

100g dark chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)

Whizz up the butter and sugars with the electric whisk, add in the milk and vanilla and whizz some more.  Stir in the flour (it seems a lot, but it all goes in eventually).  Finally, stir in the chocolate chips.  Spread over the top of your cooled brownie and refrigerate.

If you still don’t think it’s coronary-inducing enough, you can finish by spreading a layer of melted chocolate over the chilled cookie dough.  But that would just be silly.

Oh…

English Dad’s Ten Car Commandments

English Dad loves his car.  It’s his pride and joy.  Oh, I know what you’re thinking… yes, the odd wash and buff up on a Sunday… top notch insurance, that sort of thing..

You have no idea.  The hubster works away from home.  While he’s away, he rings to ask after his car. Not his family – his car.   Should there be even the smallest mention of bird poop, there is huffing, puffing and detailed cleaning instructions.  The handbrake is left off (with a rock behind the front wheel – you can never be too careful) and the car has to be driven (nowhere dangerous or gravelly) every so often to make sure the battery doesn’t go flat.  Oh and it needs to be parked far enough to the right to make sure that the postman isn’t at risk of knocking it with his bag as he approaches.  In fact, I could go so far as to list at least ten… the hubby’s commandments, if you will:

  1. Thou shalt not park in Tesco car park. In fact, thou shalt never park next to anyone. Ever.
  2. Thou shalt never drive through newly laid tarmac (or those 20mph areas where they’ve just laid gravel).  If this means stopping dead and turning round right there and then?  So be it.
  3. Thou shalt take two spots in the furthest space in a multi-storey (this can often mean driving up ten floors to the roof level)
  4. Thou shalt wash off bird poop within seconds of it landing, thus preventing any potential staining
  5. Thou shalt never drive in the rain.  Especially if there is the potential for mud.  There shall be no mud. Ever.
  6. Thou shalt have seventy five bottles of different stuff for washing/waxing/cleaning the hood/buffing the alloys, etc, etc.  (There are even different coloured waxes to EXACTLY MATCH the colour of various parts of the car.  I kid you not.)
  7. Thy chamois leather shall never dry out (and be constantly stored in your vehicle in case of emergency chamois requirement).
  8. Thou shalt NEVER drive down a one lane track where there is a possibility that you might have to pull over into nasty scratchy hedges.
  9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s car – even if it’s that new Vauxhall Insignia VXR that they’ve just bought…  NOTHING is quite as good as the husband’s car.
  10. No dog/child with a ball/furry creature/sharp implement/garden tool/set of golf clubs shall ever be allowed near, or transported in the vehicle.

Okay so now you’re up to date.  Once the above is memorised and absorbed, you might be allowed to go in the back seat.  Might.  But those rivets on your jeans?  They could scratch the leather….

Which is where, incidentally, my car comes in.  For my car is, I’m afraid, not very clean (cars are OUTSIDE things!), a bit grubby inside… is used for Tesco runs (yup *gasp* I park in Tesco), is driven in the rain, and often contains all manner of children/sharp implements/dirty things, even the odd dog.

Trust me.  You’re better off in mine.

 

Blog tour: Have you eaten? by Billy Law

When I first received this book, I couldn’t quite work out why Billy Law’s face is so familiar.  Now I know: a sucker for all sorts of food TV, I’d seen him on Masterchef Australia.  Billy was born in Malaysia, and now lives in Australia, and like any good Australian, his cooking fuses traditional fare with loads of modern dishes.

Reading the book, it becomes evident that Billy’s a bit struck on the quirky and adventurous.  I love nothing more, and was fascinated by his Vegemite cheesecake recipe. Really?  I mean, REALLY?  Billy assures us that ‘the salty Vegemite enhances the sweetness of the cheesecake’ and on closer inspection it seems that the Vegemite is combined with a chocolate ganache, so I suppose he’s right… I’m determined to give the recipe a try to find out.

More traditional recipes I’m dying to try include some lovely noodle dishes such as curry laksa (although the ingredient list for the laksa paste looks somewhat daunting) and a couple of yummy looking king prawn recipes: a very crispy cereal butter prawn dish using, wait for it, Weetabix, and pepper Assam (or tamarind) prawns.

I was also surprised at the amount of desserts in the book: chocolate and salted caramel pots de creme look utterly delicious, as do chocolate and peanut butter tarts.  The fudgy macadamia and peanut butter brownies (the only recipe I’ve actually managed to make so far – but there are a lot of pages turned down for future use), were, as promised, deliciously squidgy.  The sour cream gives the brownies a tenderness and the Macadamia nuts have a lovely crunch and I’ll continue to use them instead of my usual almonds in my brownies.  Burying a tablespoon of peanut butter in each portion of the mixture is a fab idea too.

Have You Eaten? by Billy Law, £25 hardback, is published by Hardie Grant and available at http://www.hardiegrant.co.uk/books/have-you-eaten-paperback

Follow the blog tour:
Monday 1st - http://junglefrog-cooking.com/

Tuesday 2nd - http://englishmum.com/

Wednesday 3rd - http://www.babaduck.com/

Thursday 4th - http://www.millycundall.com/

Friday 5th - http://breadetbutter.wordpress.com/

Win a copy of Have You Eaten? thanks to Hardie Grant Books. For more details simply follow Hardie Grant on Twitter @hardiegrantuk. UK residents only (sorry overseas friends!).