Charlie 16th birthday cheesecake

The Birthday Challenge: chocolate peanut butter cheesecake for Charlie

My baby boy is 16. How did that happen?  I’ll save you the ‘it seems like only yesterday’ speech, mostly because it doesn’t seem like only yesterday, in fact, I can barely remember those first few weeks, to be honest, plus it’s a bit yawny when parents start getting all misty eyed.  Suffice to say, we’re the proudest parents, we love him to bits and we’ll move on to the birthday cake of choice.

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The Disney Magic

Disney Cruise Line’s amazing new ‘Frozen’ destinations for 2015

I’m a huge Disney Cruise Line fan, as you know.  We were on the Disney Magic last year cruising around the Mediterranean and it was just absolutely magical.  Of course, the Magic has now had an incredible revamp and is ready, all sparkly and new, to set sail along with the Fantasy and Wonder for new destinations in the summer of 2015.

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Phones: so important when you travel.

The one where I turn detective in my quest for cheaper mobile data bills while travelling

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been having a bit of a moan about mobile data roaming when travelling abroad.  Obviously, being online and staying in  contact is really important when, like me, it’s your business, but just generally, most people want to be able to stay in touch when they’re abroad (although obviously tweeting when you’re on the beach is generally only the preserve of nutters like me).

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Charlie photographing the Colosseum

Inghams Italy’s Parents Guide to Italy

Regular readers will know I’m a huge fan of Italy – we visited Rome on our fabulous Mediterranean Disney Cruise and I’ve recently written about Sorrento and Pompeii.  I was delighted, then, when Inghams asked me if I’d like to contribute to their ‘Parents Guide to Italy’.  Would I ever?  

Inghams Italy are experts in Italian holidays.  They’ve worked really hard to find tons of really unusual hotels, from vineyards to castles, with the flexibility of choosing to fly from over 20 UK airports on a day to suit you.  They’re specialists in tailor-made holidays with tons of flexibility and are all about making your holiday perfect for you.

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Dad selfie

Birthday week

Forty four.

FORTY FOUR!

So in honour of this momentous number, I decided that I should have a birthday week (what? it’s a thing) of fun, celebrations, yummy food and seeing the people I love.  7 happy days to celebrate.  Here are some of the things that have happened so far.  My Disreputable Dad’s first ever selfie – at 78! (above)…

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bookmakers-co-uk-ladies-day

Styling Ladies Day at the Grand National

The Grand National is fast approaching, which means it will soon be Ladies Day: my favourite time of year to do some serious fashiony people watching and gaze (sometimes in wonder and – let’s face it – sometimes in horror) at the outfits on display.  Sadly I won’t be attending but the lovely chaps at Bookmakers asked me how I would have styled my day and – anything for a bit of online window shopping – I was happy to oblige!

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Flapjacks

Weekend baking: fabulous fruity flapjacks

So, amazingly, Charlie has stuck to his rash ‘I’m not eating chocolate any more’ decision with incredibly amounts of willpower, even as we’ve been tucking into all sorts of treats we’ve been sent.  He’s not even been eating his previous post-school staple of chocolate brownies.  He is, however, still eating other treats, so I’m not overly worried that this is one of those mad teenage diets.

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Scarlett necklace

Scarlett Jewellery – perfect for Mothers’ Day

Scarlett Jewellery

Something personalised always makes a gift extra special, which goes down well with Mums.  Scarlett Jewellery is handmade in the UK and was founded by fellow mum, designer Sarah Fenton in 1998.   I had a chat with Sarah and she listened really hard when I was telling her what I would love for Mothers’ Day (basically something featuring ALL my family).  The result (with many of her suggestions) was this gorgeous necklace (above).

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Frozen creme egg

The one with the frozen Cadbury Creme Egg

I’m generally more of a cake lover then chocolate (you had no idea, right?) but there’s something about Cadbury Creme Eggs (yes, it’s Cadbury, not Cadbury’s – y’know, like Cinderella Castle at Disneyworld) that makes me long for Easter every year (the season is actually quite short – they’ll be gone from the shelves again on April 20th).  I think it’s a bit of a comfort thing in miserable January and February (plus March is my birthday month and I associate it with Creme Eggs!).   I’m a ‘bit the top off and lick the goo out’ person, but recently we’ve become a bit addicted to popping them in the freezer.  The filling doesn’t set solid, but becomes firm and fondanty.  Delicious, and a bit easier to scoff on the sofa, admittedly.

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Guinness cupcake with ganache

Ginger Guinness cupcakes for St Patrick’s Day

Regular English Mum readers will know that Ireland means a lot to us all here at English Towers.  In fact, it’s the reason why this little part of the interwebz even exists.  Long, long ago (eight whole years to be precise) we set off on a new adventure to the Emerald Isle and spent many happy years living first in Dublin, then later Meath and finally beautiful county Cavan.

Mr English is of Irish descent and the boys are proud of their heritage. Charlie can even wow you with a bit of Gaeilge if you ask nicely (although it’s mostly swears) so when Paddy’s Day approaches, it instills in us all a mixture of nostalgia and longing for places and friends left behind.

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Spiced lamb puff pastry pie

Weekend baking: spiced lamb puff pastry pies

Continuing with my new menu planning obsession (honestly, it’s saving me A FORTUNE – I’ve got my favourites saved on the online shopping app and I just tweak it every week, then buy the odd bit of fresh stuff from the farmer’s market or my fab local farm shop), I thought I’d share another of my staple ingredients: puff pastry.  I do quite like making puff pastry (well, rough puff), but there’s certainly no shame in using ready made, and a pack of all butter puff pastry is the perfect thing to keep in the fridge to make tarts, pies and much more.

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Lyra from bottom of stairs 700

The #whyDSLR photography challenge

I’m really not a good photographer.  I don’t own a decent camera and although I feel like my Instagram/food shots are improving, I’ve got quite a long way to go.

Recently, Panasonic launched a new campaign around their Lumix G range, called #whyDSLR.  It’s all about the benefits of mirrorless cameras over more traditional DSLRs (I’m not technical so I’m afraid you’ll have to look at the website for the details, but as far as I can work out, mirrorless cameras are the more modern, lighter, smaller option).  They sent me one of their Lumix GX7 cameras to try out and have a play with.

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Heli

How not to miss a flight

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.

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shortbread biscuits

Weekend baking: quick and easy shortbread

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.

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Indian tapas at Mother India's Café

Edinburgh for food lovers

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!

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Traditional flat 'English' pancake

English or American: a plethora of pancakes for Pancake Day!

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.

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Actimel Gary Barlow

#Squeezemorein – and win VIP tickets to see Gary Barlow!

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.

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