Lyra and Chas bed

House news – and teenage bedrooms

So things on the house front have moved on AGAIN.  After the third house purchase fell through, I’ve got to be honest, we were pretty despondent.  I’ve never heard of it happening before, but the last one got right to survey and then the survey came in 20k under budget.  Anyone else had any experience of that?

Anyhoo, it’s all change again, because we think we’ve found the perfect house – the one we’re already in!  We’ve got some lovely plans to do the place up – with a spacious kitchen diner instead of our poky kitchen and separate dining room  (more of this later, but my Pinterest page is burgeoning) and new floors and even bathrooms when funds permit.

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Seven Seas Perfect7

On test: Seven Seas new Perfect7 Woman

Ageing’s a weird thing.  It kind of creeps up on you and then BAM! suddenly there’s a wrinkle you never saw before, or you start to notice your neck looking weird in photos if your head’s not quite at the right level, or you have to hold the book a little far away to get the letters in focus (obviously none of these have actually happened to me. Cough).  Mr E is older than me so we always had a bit of banter about him being the old and crinkly one, but recently, I’ve been noticing a few of these little tell-tale signs, and although I won’t be rushing off to get Botox or Spanx or anything, I want to take care of myself as much as I can.

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Sprouts: yum

My top five Christmas dinner hacks

So you might be one of those people that LOVES cooking for people at Christmas (like me) or you might be one who dreads it every year.  Either way, the best way to get through that dinner is to cheat as much as possible.  Here are my top five Christmas dinner hacks to give you more time with your family and friends, and less time at the oven and sink on the big day.

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Decorations at London Heathrow

Win an overnight hotel stay and airport parking with APH!

Often, the most stressful part of travel is getting to the airport. On my last trip, the flights were difficult to book and I ended up flying from Heathrow, but returning back to Gatwick.  We always use APH meet and greet parking (I love being met at the airport by someone who whisks your car away leaving you free to walk straight into the airport, then magically returns it just as you walk out again after your trip) so I decided to drive to Heathrow, leave my car, then get an airport coach back from Gatwick on my return.  APH were wonderful, and moved my car to Terminal 5, the nearest terminal, so I had the shortest journey possible to pick up my car again.  I was delighted.

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Luckies of London laptop case

English Mum’s Big Christmas Gift Guide – top treats for teens!

I think teenagers are some of the most difficult people to buy pressies for (difficult all round, but that’s for another day haha).  Thinking creatively about their presents, aside from the never ending list of PS4/Xbox related things occupies quite a lot of my time before Christmas, so I thought I’d share a couple of lovely present ideas with you.

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The Snow Leopard martini

Christmas cocktail fun: the Snow Leopard Conservation Martini

A friend of mine’s got a bit of a thing for premium drinkies and, knowing I feel the same, sent me a bottle of this lovely stuff: Snow Leopard vodka.  This uber cool super-premium vodka was created by Stephen Sparrow, a passionate conservationist and ex-drinks industry expert, who heard about the plight of the Snow Leopards during a trip to the Himalayas.  There are just 5000 of these beautiful big cats left in the wild and Stephen created the Snow Leopard Trust UK with a goal to raise a million dollars a year to save them.

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The Sloane

A Christmas tradition: the Harrods hamper

There’s something delightfully festive about a Harrods Hamper.  Seeing as we’re all getting into the Christmas spirit here at English Towers, I was very excited when Harrods offered us the chance to try one out.  We chose ‘The Sloane‘, and it arrived (you can track your order online, and it arrives within 3-5 working days) well protected and carefully packaged.  The hamper, a glossy square dark brown cane basket with a faux leather embossed lid is huge – rather over huge, if I’m honest, for its contents, which I’d probably describe as all the ingredients for the poshest afternoon tea you’ve had in your entire existence.

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Rough puff mince pies

Rough puff pastry mince pies

The thing about home baking is that it should be a joy.  My favourite times are spent in my kitchen – pinny on (Cath Kidston, a treasured present from my friend Taralara), oven on, flour everywhere, radio playing, people popping in and out for a chat or a quick taste – it’s my therapy. I’d go mad without it.  Someone once told me that you should never bake when you’re miserable – nothing goes right – cakes don’t rise, things don’t taste right… it’s because the baking picks up on your mood, and I completely believe that’s true.

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One pot garlic chicken

Pot roasted garlic chicken – and win a Berndes casserole dish!

If you’ve been in Tesco recently, you’ll have seen that they’re currently running a sticker promotion  where you can save up to 70% on exclusive Berndes cookware products (collect one sticker for every £20 you spend – once you’ve collected five stickers you can use them to buy the discounted cookware.  Tesco very kindly send me one of the casseroles to try. They’re wonderfully chunky and heavy – perfect for soups, stews and casseroles.  I tried my hand at a little one-pot cooking:

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Disney Dreams

A Frozen Christmas at Disneyland Paris

There’s nowhere guaranteed to make me feel more Christmassy than a Disney park.  Disney do Christmas so well, with twinkly lights, garlands and a 24m high Christmas tree (decorated with over 1000 decorations and 500 light bulbs) and, my favourite touch, snow fall on Main Street, USA (which always makes me cry).  As an added bonus, this year, Disneyland Paris will be celebrating with the cast of their blockbuster movie, Frozen.

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Ox cheek Jalfrezi

Braised, spicy Jalfrezi ox cheeks with Schwartz Flavour Shots

My store cupboard is really important to me.  As well as the basics like salt, pepper, oil and stock cubes, I like to have lots of different seasoning mixes and dried herbs and spices, especially at this time of year when it’s more difficult to pop into the garden for a handful of parsley or coriander.  Products from the lovely chaps at Schwartz feature heavily in my kitchen – I like dried coriander in my winter curries, and we’re all completely addicted to the Perfect Shake seasoning blend for chips (if you haven’t discovered this yet, grab some now, it’s awesome).

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Bobbi Brown at Macy's UTC

The UK does Macy’s – the new Macy’s at UTC Sarasota

So next on our wonderful trip to Florida, we hopped back into our amazing Mustang and headed down to Sarasota, to the brand new Mall at University Town Centre (UTC for short).  The brand new Macy’s there is utterly fantastic, and very state of the art.  We joined store manager Kerry Yelle for a tour of the store.  She’s understandably pretty proud of the place and pointed out several really cool features that are unique to this ‘smart store’.  The lighting, for example, has been designed to be sustainable and the lamps don’t need replacing, plus the changing rooms have lights that only come on when you enter, to save energy.

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Appleyard London 'mulled wine' arrangement

40% off beautiful Christmas flowers from Appleyard London!

I love flowers – adore them.  Mr English spent the whole summer buying me sunflowers from our local market, but now it’s moving into Christmas time, I’m all for red roses, fragrant pine and silvery eucalyptus.  I was delighted, then, when the lovely chaps at Appleyard London sent me some of their beautiful Christmas flowers, the gorgeous ‘mulled wine’ arrangement – a mix of velvety red grand prix roses, pine cones, berries and seasonal foliage.  The arrangement scented the whole house and made us all feel really Christmassy.  I can imagine it taking pride of place in the centre of the Christmas table.

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Christmas tree biscuits 2

Christmas tree biscuits #bakeitforward

So have you seen the Waitrose Christmas advert?  We love the story of little Ellie, the reluctant baker, who ends up mastering the art of gingerbread baking for her school fete.

Waitrose have challenged me to get involved with their #bakeitforward campaign, to spread a little love and Christmas cheer to some people I really care about by baking them a special treat.  I love decorating biscuits, it’s so Christmassy – so here are my cute little chocolate Christmas tree biscuits.  This dough is perfect for cutting out shapes as it doesn’t spread in the oven – it’s really easy to make too.

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The Ninja

Sleep tight, little Ninja Cat

It’s been a pretty emotional day. Before we went to bed last night, Ninja seemed unsettled – her breathing was a bit wheezy, and we wondered if she was doing that thing they do before yacking up an enormous fur ball somewhere inconvenient like your bedroom carpet (it’s never on the kitchen floor is it?).

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The Diagon Alley dragon

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Having shopped until we dropped at Macy’s, we decided to grab a couple of hours at Universal Orlando (well, seeing as we were so close…).  I was desperate to visit the new Diagon Alley section of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so we headed straight to Universal’s Islands of Adventure on the complimentary shuttle bus from the Cabana Bay Beach Resort and headed straight to Hogsmeade Station to wait for the Hogwarts Express:

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Wonderland logo

Dining options on board Quantum of the Seas

So last time I told you all about Quantum’s incredible technology.  It really has transformed nearly every aspect of the guest experience, from super speedy check in and luggage tracing, right down to the dining.  Guests can reserve at iQ stations, by the new app, by phone or in person and with 18 restaurants and 14 bars to choose from, there’s something for everyone. Table staff take orders on a tablet, keeping them where customers need them most, in the restaurant,  and this technology will track you no matter where you eat, so if you love a glass of champagne while you order, or if you have any specific dietary requirements, this will all be logged and the information will be available to each restaurant when you arrive.

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