Mmmm pancakes!

My top five fluffy American pancake ideas

So how did you feel this morning when the alarm went off?  After all the lovely festive lie-ins, English Towers was not a happy household.  I find that what you really, really need on these cold mornings (apart from a hug, obviously), is a mahoosive tower of puffy, fluffy American pancakes.  The lovely chaps at Flora were kind enough to share their wonderful recipe for American pancakes with me, and challenged me to come up with some awesome breakfast recipes to help you all through all these ffffrrrreeeezing mornings!

Read more

Guacamole at La Malinche

The UK does Macy’s: my top five things to do in Sarasota

So if you pop in occasionally, you’ll know that Mr English and I recently spent a while in Florida, visiting the Macy’s stores in both Orlando and Sarasota.  We particularly loved Sarasota – it’s a beautiful area and there’s bags of stuff to do as well as a really cool foodie scene.  We whittled our favourite experiences down to five really fab experiences:

Christmas at Macy's

Christmas at Macy’s

1. Macy’s and the Mall at UTC

Well of course the first thing you MUST do is visit the new Macy’s at the brand new sparkly Mall at University Town Centre.  Get there early, grab a coffee in the new Starbucks and then head straight to the Visitors Center to pick up your Passport to Shopping which is packed with discounts and special offers.

2. The Ringling

I’m not a big circus fan, I’ll be honest, but there’s something about this place that I find really magical.  Even if you skip the circus museum, take time to wander around the divine Ca’d’Zan, The Ringling’s quite incredibly lavish mansion, sitting right on the edge of Sarasota Bay.  When we visited it was decorated for Christmas.  You can take a tour (an extra $5 – if you don’t mind being barked at by the somewhat over-zealous guides – I was told off for touching a door after the guide let it shut in my face), or just wander around yourself, but you won’t be able to see the upstairs. There’s also the Museum of Art, a huge space which is packed full of all manner of art, from old masters to stunning modern pieces.

Ca'd'Zan at The Ringling

Ca’d’Zan at The Ringling

3. St Armand’s Circle

When we were in Sarasota we found ourselves coming back to this lovely area over and over again- sometimes for lunch AND dinner!  It’s a gorgeous area of shops and restaurants surrounding a central circle.  There was also a huge modern art fair when we were there, which was fab fun to wander around.  It’s right on Sarasota Bay, so you can visit the beach, shop ’til you drop or just sit in a café or restaurant and watch the world go by.

La Malinche, St Armands Circle

La Malinche, St Armands Circle

4. La Malinche

Our favourite restaurant at St Armands Circle, this Mexican restaurant is so welcoming, the owner even let us share his iPhone wifi, and the barmen are great fun.  Share the wonderful guacamole and nachos, then tuck into the molcajetes (a stone dish filled with meat, onions, peppers, salsa and tomatoes, served with fresh tortillas).  I recommend the mixed steak and chicken, but beware, it’s massive, so order one between too. Perfect with a Negra Modela amber beer.

Guacamole at La Malinche

Guacamole at La Malinche

Molcajetes at La Malinche

Molcajetes at La Malinche

5. The Artisan Cheese Company, Downtown Sarasota

We weren’t particularly lucky with the weather, so we ended up scanning Twitter on our last evening in Sarasota for something indoor to do.  We came across a tweet about a lovely cheese shop that served wine, so we hailed a taxi in the pouring rain and headed over.  We weren’t disappointed. The lovely staff created a fabulous cheese platter for us, with some delicious pickles, dried and fresh fruits.  Plus they even managed to bag us a taxi back to our hotel afterwards.  Massive selection of cheese, fabulous desserts and lovely people (hello Derek and Natalie!).  If I had one complaint it would be that they could do with a bit more choice of wine, but the one we had was perfectly nice.  I still keep in touch with the owner now on Instagram. We’re definitely going back again.

American cheese platter at the Artisan Cheese Company

American cheese platter at the Artisan Cheese Company

For more information about Macy’s, follow #UKdoesMacys on Twitter, because two other lovely bloggers are heading out to San Francisco and New York to discover the Macy’s stores there. Lucky things.

If you’re planning a trip to the USA and would like to know more about Macy’s, check out Visit Macy’s USA – you’ll even find me there!

Director Ed watching the action on the monitor

Ooooh I’m on the telly! The new Sainsbury’s ‘Love Your Freezer’ campaign

So by now you might well have seen me on the telly (I KNOW!).  Regular readers will know that I’m a huge freezer fan so I’m delighted to be working with Sainsbury‘s on their ‘love your freezer’ campaign – if you haven’t seen the advert, I’ve got it right here, and it’ll be around on the TV for a while too – I saw it on Channel 4 during Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast, which pleased me immensely! Read more

Mechoui lamb

New year, new plans

Happy New Year!  I hope you had a lovely evening with your friends and family (or indeed a quiet one at home).  We had family round and did a huge Middle Eastern feast, with slow roasted Mechoui lamb, minted yogurt, harissa and sweet chilli jam, all stuffed into warmed pittas with red cabbage and salad. So yummy and a great way to feed a crowd.

Read more

Christmas wines

Step by step: how to cook a turkey, stuffing and all the trimmings

IT’S NEARLY HERE!  If you’re hosting Christmas lunch/dinner this year, here is everything you need to do, including lots of tips to make it stress free and ensure you spend your precious time with your family and friends, and not too much chained to the oven!  Remember, don’t panic, and  just think of it as a roast dinner on a slightly larger scale.

Before you start, grab a cuppa and have a read through:

Read more

Asda Extra Special hamper

Asda’s Extra Special Christmas

Lovely Asda sent me a very festive hamper this weekend: not chocolates, or chutney, no, the best kind: MEAT!

Of course, not everyone wants to eat a traditional roast turkey at Christmas, and Asda’s Extra Special range has some stunning alternatives, including an Extra Special rack of venison, and a unique six bird roast, with British turkey, skinless duck fillet, chicken breast, wild pheasant, partridge and pigeon. The thought of these ‘bird within a bird’ roasts sometimes puts me off (how do you cut off the skin and inedible bits of each bird?) but Asda’s chefs have worked hard to create a dish with all the nice edible bits.  It’s covered in a lattice of oak smoked streaky bacon and all you need to do is shove it in the oven. It serves 10 and costs £40 – in store now.

Read more

M&S mini Christmas pudding cakes

Party food from Marks and Spencer

My children love our weird dinners (not).  The other night, we were testing Marks and Spencer’s new range of party food.  Their dinner was entirely made up of canapés, which although seems very posh, is actually quite strange.  The good news is, though, that the party food is REALLY good, so we didn’t mind at all.  And we thought it would be even better if you actually used it all as intended, y’know, for parties…

Read more

Hot toddy

The Big Christmas Gift Guide: perfect pressies for pets!

I couldn’t finish off my gift guides without giving a little nod to our furry friends.  It’s been a bit sad at English Towers since little Ninja passed away.  I miss being attacked on the stairs, and slowly but surely the random white hairs are appearing less and less on everything I iron.  Soon I won’t be cursing as I pick them off every item of clothing – and what will I do then?

Read more

Disney's Frozen cake toppers

Disney’s Frozen Christmas Cake

For me, this year has been all about  Walt Disney World, and in particular, Disney’s Frozen.  So when it came to decorating my Christmas cake, I knew it was going to have to have a Frozen theme.  I’d seen the sugar glass (or ice) a few times on Pinterest but they were always American recipes and involved corn syrup and, frankly, unless you’re Buddy the Elf, it’s unlikely you’re going to come across this on your travels. I was worried that substituting golden syrup would taint the colour but it didn’t seem to at all (obviously if you’re aiming for clear ‘glass’ then this recipe won’t work for you’).  I used colouring paste, but liquid will work too.  These gorgeous little cake toppers are from Cake Decorating Store, as are the cutters.  I cut out the ‘frozen fractals’ from leftover icing (sticking them on with a dab of boiling water)  but decorate however you want, or just leave it plain and sprinkle with a bit of glitter (I love glitter).

Disney's Frozen Olaf Christmas cake

Disney’s Frozen Olaf Christmas cake

Read more

Radical Skincare

English Mum’s Big Christmas Gift Guide: pampering pressies!

As a mum (and I speak from experience here), there’s nothing nicer than opening a pressie containing lovely pampering stuff that you might think twice about splashing out on yourself.

In this Big Christmas Gift Guide, I’ve brought together a few lovely treats that will make you, your mum/your wife/your sister feel fabulous, because, hey, they deserve it.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

Decorations at London Heathrow

Win an overnight hotel stay and airport parking with APH! *closed*

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more