Wikio have offered me a little sneaky peak at their Top 20 Gastronomy chart this month. Some of my favourite websites in here! Congratulations everyone.
Wow. There’s been such a massive response to this latest bakeoff that my usual bout of slightly shouty hysteria in collating the results (I’m technologically challenged, okay?) has lasted much longer than normal. I actually still think I’ve managed to delete one entry, so if you’ve entered and you can’t see your pic, please feel free to email me via the contact form (don’t shout at me, though, I’m delicate). Still, buoyed by gin and a bit of sweariness, I’m there. So without further ado, I give you the fabulous entries. One of which will be winning a Bush BAFF55161S Frost Free Fridge Freezer in Silver, worth £359.99 courtesy of the lovely chaps at Argos.
So now it’s over to our glamorous judge and winner of the last bakeoff, Arlene from The Fuzzy Times. All devious approaches and offers of bribery should be directed directly to her (I’m keeping out of it), and just in case you were thinking of rubbing me off your Christmas list, I’d just like to point out that I’m not involved in the judging process and the judge’s decision is final.
So sit back, grab a coffee and feast your eyes upon the cakey beauty below (click on the pic to get a bigger image).
What’s your favourite, then?
So Dubai, then. What springs to mind when you think of the place? For most of us I’d guess it’s that whole millionaire’s playground thing: fast cars, enormous luxury malls… oh and maybe you’d also worry about covering yourself up? Being arrested for kissing in the street?
Well that was more or less my view anyway. And I’m happy to admit that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I didn’t wear any of the stuff I’d packed to cover myself up, and the people are absolutely lovely – kind, respectful and courteous. And yes, you can hold hands (it’s pretty common for male friends to hold hands) and kiss your kids in the street, or your other half, with no problem at all. Real, full-on Public Displays of Affection (PDAs) would be considered pretty rude, but I don’t think many people anywhere would really want to pass people on the street full-on snogging would they? The Emirati are a peaceful, respectful bunch – they encourage tolerance (I was surprised to hear that every religion is encouraged here – you’ll find Hindu temples, Christian churches, everything you can think of) and we were welcomed inside the Jumeirah Mosque and encouraged to ask any questions we wanted (more of this later).
So what did we get up to? We had a packed schedule – we visited quite a few different hotels and apartments, all at different budgets – we went to a mosque, to an aquarium… an ice rink… on a desert jeep safari… an amazing variety. I really wanted to approach the trip with a view to bringing my family.
At the risk of boring the pants off you all, I thought I’d split this into sections. Here’s what I discovered:
We visited the whole gamut of accommodation, from self catering apartments to the amazing luxury of the Burj Al Arab (the one shaped like a sail).
Our hotel was at the Madinat Jumeirah – an enormous resort containing two hotels, villas, tons of restaurants, a souk and masses more. It’s all linked together by an amazing waterway system so you can get everywhere you like by just hailing an Abra (water taxi). We stayed in the Mina A’Salam – a beautiful boutique hotel with views over the Burj Al Arab.
Check out my room!
Here’s the view from my balcony:
There’s a great kids’ club there – with all-day facilities should you wish to leave your little ones. Their attention to safety is amazing – we counted three lifeguards around the baby pool alone:
They’re also in the process of building a climbing wall and a kids’ gym too.
This fabulous, wave-shaped hotel would be a great choice for anyone with school-aged kids, as the hotel is attached to the Wild Wadi water park and guests get free access (you can also access the water park from the Jumeirah Madinat by hailing one of the golf buggies that take people around the resorts). They’ve also got loads of amazing themed restaurants (wild west dining, anyone?) and the manager, Margaret Paul, was very keen to tell me that they’re not just a ‘chicken nuggets and chips’ kind of place (although of course you’ll find that on the menu too!).
This is the view from one of the rooms at the Jumeirah Beach overlooking the Wild Wadi water park – how cool is that?!
If you fancy going self-catering, a great affordable (but still luxe) option is to head to the Oasis Beach Tower (right next to Frankie’s – Marco Pierre White and Frankie Dettori’s joint venture restaurant) in the Jumeirah Beach area, very close to the lovely Dubai Marina area:
The apartments are huge, with two, three, or even four big bedrooms (each with a bathroom), a really well appointed kitchen (you can have a chef come in and cook for you if you’re feeling lazy – or of course there’s the miriad restaurants in the marina area):
We ate in the Thyme Mediterranean restaurant in the tower, and I have to say it was one of my favourite meals – a lovely mezze starter with tons of lovely Arabian bread to dip in was followed by a huge slab of beef from the carvery:
We all loved the creamy cabbage accompaniment so much that we had to ask the chef for the recipe, and the roasted herby pumpkin was just delicious. Finished off with a gooey chocolate fondant, we waddled out of the place replete and delighted. I’d go back tomorrow.
Of course if you want luxe luxe, then look no further than the beautiful, spectacular, amazing Burj Al Arab. Designed to look like the sail of a dow, it is luxe on such a major scale that some journalists have declared it 7 star (although they’re far too polite to actually say that themselves). We felt like such interlopers looking around – it was amazing. Each suite is a duplex, with living accommodation on one floor:
…and then your own stairs up to the bedrooms above:
This is the master suite:
and for the kids…
Check out the bathroom:
And oh, the food… these were only nibbles:
Nothing is too much trouble and the service is bloody amazing.
I won’t bore you with all my photos, but if you do fancy having a look, they’re on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/englishmumdotcom
Do also check out my ‘ten amazing family activities in Dubai’ over at havealovelytime.com.
So my lovely gorgeous friend Helen, wine expert, International Wine Challenge judge, writer of Knackered Mother’s Wine Club and all-round wine smarty pants, is used to my incessant pestering for guest posts on wine. Happily, she’s lifted the restraining order just enough to accept a request for a no-holds-barred guide to Easter wine, even how to match wine with the dreaded chocky egg. Over to you, lovely Hells:
Now that Spring has definitely sprung and Easter Sunday is in sight, there’s been a shift in what I look forward to in my glass at the end of the day. There are a few more aromatic, ‘floral’ whites such as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling rather than the winter-warming oaked Chardonnays and higher-than-average-alcohol Viogniers making it into the fridge. The deep, intense Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon- dominated red wines are moving over for lighter, fruitier Gamay, Sangiovese or Pinot Noir style wines. Given the unpredictability of our weather I’ll keep some of those winter warmers in the wine rack, just in case. But, with fingers firmly crossed, here are some wines that should put a spring in your step and just happen to go a dream with traditional Easter fodder:
The shops are chock-full of sparkling wine deals at Easter time so you really can take your pick of the bargains. Of course, you can go for a cheaper Prosecco but it really is worth spending a bit more on something that gets its bubbles from being fermented in the bottle a second time. If you like a lean, elegant style of Champagne – think Kate Moss pre-Pete Doherty– go for a Blanc de Blancs. That means it is only made from Chardonnay grapes. If you like your Champagne with more flesh and curves on show – think Elizabeth Hurley in THAT dress – go for a Blanc de Noirs. This means it is only made from the permitted red grapes, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. If you can’t choose between the two, go for a blend of all three grapes but make it a Premier Cru (meaning made from grapes grown in slightly higher-rated vineyards than your average Champers): Tesco do a brilliant one in their Finest range.
Red Wines ♥ Lamb
Assuming you’ve got a huge leg of lamb stuffed full of garlic and rosemary in the oven, you’ll need a red to go with it. You can try a white, but the fat (from the lamb) and the acidity (from the white) will fight and both will taste the worse for it. However, give the lamb a juicy red with some lovely supple tannins and everything will taste as it should. Both Cabernet Sauvignon and the lovely, if slightly slutty, Tempranillo grape from Spain – what Rioja is made of – are great matches for lamb. If you are doing a lighter take on lamb, going easy on the garlic & herbs, then a New World Pinot Noir will also make a great match. Try one from New Zealand or Chile (the latter being slightly cheaper).
Wine & Chocolate
I know lots of people who swear by red wine and chocolate being a heavenly match. I’m not one of them. Years ago, when working as a wine buyer for a big supermarket I developed a range of wines to go with particular foods. One of the wines on the list had to go with chocolate so, hard as it was, I tasted about 50 different wines with a variety of puddings including chocolate. Almost none of the combinations worked. Tannins, found in red wines, are not bessie mates with chocolate. The best match is either a light Moscato-style fizz or a lovely thick sweet wine like Banyuls from France.
Happy Easter x
Well, we’re finally home. Our total journey went something like this:
Car from Cavan to Dublin Airport
Flight from Dublin Airport to London Heathrow (we couldn’t get a flight to Gatwick)
Drive to London Gatwick
Flight from London Gatwick to Cancun, Mexico
Flight back from Cancun, Mexico to London Gatwick (delayed 10 hours)
Miss flight back to Ireland and argue with unhelpful Ryanair about why I won’t pay £1000 to get on next flight.
*pause for hissy bout of hysteria*
Drive to English Grandma’s house in Hertfordshire
Stay there two days panicking about how to get home.
Get saved by wonderful friend who suggests sailrail.co.uk
Train to Milton Keynes, then Chester, then Holyhead
Ferry from Holyhead to Dublin Port
Taxi from Dublin Port to incredibly understanding Long Stay Car Park (who didn’t charge me extra).
But I’m back!
And oh, the wonderful things I have to show and tell.
For instance, we saw this:
And we ate this:
And we did this:
… saw lots of this:
And even shed a tear at this:
Much, much more to come. Once I’ve conquered the EU washing mountain and cleaned out the Nutties.
Fellow blogger and tweeter, Ben, from Mutterings of a Fool was telling me all about the fabulous slow-roasted pork he was going to cook for his family over Christmas, so of course I persuaded him to give us the recipe (and take photos). Over to Ben, then. And no dribbling on the keyboard, now.
Soooo here comes the big day! There’s just the four of us this year, but whether you’re catering for 15 or it’s just you and your other half, the golden rule is the same as ever: Christmas day is a happy, family day. Please don’t get stressed and fall apart. Just think of it as a big roast dinner – a turkey is very forgiving and will happily rest for a good hour (and probably more), covered in foil and a tea towel or two, so there’s no need to rush anything. My one recommendation is to take ten minutes to write a rough timetable somewhere, so that when you’re a bit sozzled, you can easily work out your timings. Remember if you’re steaming a Christmas pudding as well you’ll need to time that.
And look, I love Nigella, but will I be brining my turkey in about fifteen quid’s worth of citrus fruits, various herbs, spices and maple syrupy water? Nope. It’s waaaay too much effort, and cost. I’ll be preparing as much as I can in advance so that I can have a couple of glasses of champers and enjoy a gentle potter in the kitchen on the big day.
As for prep, here’s my top tips:
Prepare in advance
Get as much as possible done 1 or 2 days in advance. Peel the potatoes, cut them into even sizes and boil for as long as you dare (the softer they are the fluffier the centre will be when you roast them). Then just drain, leave to sit until cool and then open freeze on a tray before popping in a sealable freezer bag and freezing (if you freeze them straight into the bag they all fuse together in one big lump). On the day they can go straight into the hot oil/goose fat from frozen.
With the veg, just peel and prepare all your carrots/sprouts/whatever and bung them in plastic bags. Don’t freeze them as this will make them a bit soggy, but store them sealed in the fridge until you’re ready, then just pop straight into the boiling water (or steam) on the day.
For the turkey
Again, do this the day before. Don’t wally about washing the bloody thing in the sink – the hot oven will kill any germs and you’ll just succeed in covering yourself and your sink in all manner of bacteria. Just unwrap it, take the giblets out (use to make stock), pluck out any stray feathers and get on with it.
I use one of those massive disposable foil turkey tray things – I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly choice but hey, it’s Christmas.
Add a few extras:
It’s nice to use a few flavours to enhance the turkey so cut up a couple of lemons or oranges, squeeze them over the bird and then stick them into the body cavity along with a halved onion and a nice bunch of bay, thyme or rosemary or whatever you have and some salt and pepper, then tie the legs together.
For extra moistness and flavour, you can take about half a pack of butter, and mush it up with some of the stuff you’ve used in the cavity – maybe some lemon zest, pepper and a little chopped rosemary or parsley? Then separate the skin from the breast with your fingertips (you don’t have to be too careful, turkey skin is like leather), then squish the butter all over the breast under the skin. Now smooth the skin back down, drizzle with a little oil and some salt and pepper.
To stuff or not to stuff?:
I don’t stuff the turkey, partly because eating something out of a turkey’s innards puts me off a bit and partly because I think it’s better for the hot air to circulate inside it. I make the stuffing separately and cook it in a terrine in the oven once the turkey’s resting. If you want to, though, by all means stuff the neck end just before cooking.
Weighing and preparing:
Weigh your turkey and work out the cooking time. Write it on your timetable then just cover with foil (don’t bother buying that ridiculously expensive turkey foil – just overlap the normal stuff), then leave it somewhere cool until you need it. Mine’s going in a plastic box in the garage as it’s nice and cold in there, but if we have a sudden warm snap (heh, yeah right), I’ll pack some ice round it (it needs to be less than 4 degrees).
On the day:
I take my turkey out and let it come to room temp on Christmas morning. No point in putting a very cold turkey into a hot oven – it’ll take ten minutes to even start cooking. Just slosh a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan, then stick the turkey on at 190/gas 5 (180 for fan ovens), set your timer and go and have a glass of champers. If you want to, you can baste it every so often, but if you forget, don’t worry at all.
Turkey under 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 70 minutes
Turkey over 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 90 minutes
Remove the foil for the last 40 or so minutes to brown the top
Once your turkey is done (you can wobble a leg easily, and a quick stab with a knife into the thickest part will allow you to collect nice clear juices on a spoon), drain the juices into a pan for the gravy, then cover with foil and forget it while you cook everything else.
And because I ordered a turkey crown from James Whelan Butchers, I asked Pat Whelan to tell us how he cooks his gorgeous free-range turkey crowns:
Cream some butter in a bowl until very soft, then add the crushed garlic, orange rind, parsley and thyme. Beat well, until thoroughly blended. Gently loosen the neck flap away from the breast and pack the flavoured butter right under the skin — this is best done wearing disposable gloves. Rub well into the flesh of the turkey, then re-cover the skin and secure with a small skewer or sew with fine twine. Finally, cover the top of the crown with the rashers.
Place the turkey crown in the oven and calculate your time — 20 minutes per 450g (1lb) plus 20 minutes, so a joint this size should take three hours and 40 minutes. Cover loosely with foil, which should be removed about 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time. The turkey crown will cook much more quickly than a whole turkey, so make sure to keep basting.
To check if the turkey is cooked, pierce a fine skewer into the chest part of the crown, the juice should run clear. When cooked, cover with foil to rest and keep warm.
For great roasties
You really don’t need a lake of fat to make them lovely and crispy. Just cover the bottom of the roasting tin completely and make sure the fat is very hot before you add your frozen potatoes. Spoon the fat over all the potatoes then whack in a nice hot oven. The turkey will wait until your potatoes are golden and crispy (40 mins to an hour).
Easy apple and red onion stuffing
(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):
1 tbsp butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)
225g pork sausage meat
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft. Add the apple and cook until softened. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice. Once well combined, squish it into a buttered oven-proof dish, cool and bung in the fridge. On the day, it’ll take about 25 minutes (obviously more if you double up).
Bringing it all together:
And that’s it. You’ve got the last half hour to fiddle with all your little extras. Add a tablespoon or two (depending on the amount) of plain flour to the pan juices in a saucepan and cook out before adding plenty of stock (you can never have enough gravy). For sprouts, I just blanch them for a few minutes while I’m frying some streaky bacon in a couple of tablespoons of oil, then toss them in with the bacon before serving. I also serve roast parsnips with honey and a ton of cranberry sauce, oh and peas for the fussy bugger who only likes peas *sigh*.
If it goes a bit wrong and something gets burned or forgotten, it’s not the end of the world. Enjoy the day, pour yourself a drink and remember it’s just dinner.
Every time we have a takeaway from the local Indian Restaurant, Hubby always raves about their Chicken Dhansak. It’s kind of a lentily, thick and very slightly sweet chicken curry with a powerful kick of chilli. I’ve been trying to recreate it for a while and I think, judging by his reaction, I’m nearly there. It’s great served with my cheaty flatbreads and once you’ve got the store-cupboard stuff, you’ll find you cook it again and again. Here goes, then:
1 large onion, sliced
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried chilli (more if you can take it)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tbsp dried fenugreek
750ml chicken stock
2 chicken breasts, cubed (cooked or raw – leftover tandoori chicken is perfect for this)
200g red lentils or dal/split peas
Righty ho, firstly a little word about lentils. Generally I prefer the little red rentils that are readily available in the dry goods bit of the supermarket. This time I tried Chana Dal, which only seem to be found in the Indian section of the big, enormous, superduper Tesco-a-go-go in the next town. I found they didn’t break down as well as the smaller lentils and took longer to cook, but have an experiment and find out what’s best for you.
Onwards, then, to the main event:
The first and most important thing is to make sure you’ve got all your ingredients ready and measured. Have all the spices ready on a plate, the ginger grated and the chicken cubed. It will make your life a lot easier:
So firstly heat up the oil in a heavy based casserole (with a lid), sprinkle over the teaspoon of salt, and fry them gently until they’re translucent (forgive the picture, my lens got a bit steamed up):
Now add in all the spices and stir around for a minute to give them a time to infuse in the oil. The mixture will become very dry, but don’t worry, just keep stirring:
Now just shove in the lentils/dal and the chicken, stir briefly to coat, and then pour in the stock.
Cover and simmer for at least 20 minutes (especially if you’re using raw chicken) for the red lentils, and up to 45 minutes if you’re using the larger dal. You might have to check and add a little extra hot water or stock if it thickens too much.
At the last minute, stir in a couple of handfuls of spinach, or coriander, or whatever you’ve got, and serve with steamed rice to which you’ve added a pinch of saffron and a few cardamom pods (warning: count them in and count them back out – nobody likes crunching on a whole cardamom!). And yes, I know this is a rubbish photo, but I was flibbin starving!:
Next time, I’m going to attempt this recipe from Aktar Islam, Head Chef of Lasan, the winner of Gordon Ramsay’s F Word’s Best Local Restaurant competition to which I was bloody riveted (although I thought the Argentinian Restaurant should have won). And no, I didn’t get free Cobra this time, but I still thought it was good (check out the video – the lady has a cat in her sink):
Er… yup, I think that’s it. Chicken dhansak: done. (see what I did there?)
Competition terms and conditions
English Mum often runs competitions, giveaways and prize draws. Unless otherwise stated, these are UK only and open to over 18s only. The prizes offered are not transferable or exchangeable for cash. You can find English Mum’s competitions on ThePrizeFinder – UK Competitions
Advertise on English Mum
Englishmum.com occasionally teams up with brands and runs honest reviews (if I don’t like it, I’ll say so!), competitions, guest posts, advertisements and commissions (clearly categorised as featured) and other pieces. If you’d like to discuss anything of this nature, please get in touch via the contact form. Please note, though, that I won’t provide free advertising for your company and yes that includes publicising your competition/press release/client.
Something to say?
Leave a comment or drop me a line via the form below. All mail gratefully received. Please note that I do receive an awful lot of press releases etc and apologise if I can’t always respond. Becky.
Onwards and upwards, then, the ovenbus led us merrily on to Disney’s Hollywood studios:
…where I chose the moment two seconds before we rocketed off into hyperspace to mention to Lovely Disney PR Lady/ Sarah/Mary Poppins that I’d actually never been on a rollercoaster before. Her sweet little face was an instant terrified picture of a PR nightmare and she was probably playing scenes of vomiting bloggers over and over in her mind. No matter, I clutched doggedly onto Linda‘s arm (it’s okay, the nail marks have faded now), and we merrily screamed our way around ridiculous bends and gurned as the bloody thing chucked us upside down and basically tried to force our dinner out of us.
Therapy over (we decided that every mental hospital should have a rollercoaster – ain’t no getting depressed when you’re being hurled around at Mach 5), it was on to Pixar Place and a go on the awesome Toy Story Midway Mania – a nutty shoot-em-up game where all sorts of things seem to come at you in 3D (and yes, Bugs, it does strangely make you want to shout DIE M*THERF*CKERS, DIE!’, even when seated next to pigtailed 6 year olds – even gentle Alice‘s face was scrunched in concentration as she tried to murder the little aliens). Calming ourselves down, then, we headed off for a nice little Muppet 3D show. This was great fun and even had the old guys up in the theatre box commenting on the performance – watch out for the Swedish Chef appearing at the back of the theatre too!
No getting away from it, it was finally time, much to Erica‘s complete horror, to check out the Tower of Terror. And after several ‘no I can’t/yes I can/ no I really can’t’ conversations with herself, which ended about half a minute after she got on, we spent another happy ten minutes being hurled about again – this time up and down in the broken lift of the old Twilight Zone hotel, cackling and screaming like a bunch of cat women off the Simpsons. Cracking.
After dinner at the Brown Derby, we enjoyed a very real American Idol Experience, merrily yaying and booing (the yaying was for a UK contestant – somewhat bewildered when 7 random women in the third row got up and clapped her performance – and the booing was for the dreadful Simon Cowell-alike) along with the other 993 enthusiastic audience members. Stopping off for mojitos, crap Craig, the cocktail waiter made us late for the showing of Fantasmic and you know the rest.
The next day saw a hungover and somewhat shambolic pack of bloggers head to the spa for a little detoxing, then on to The Magic Kingdom, where after watching the ridiculously energetic High School Musical 3 concert, we got our hands in by killing lots of stuff with lasers on Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blaster (not a patch on Midway Mania, but still good fun). Then we stood and frazzled in the sun and watched the ‘Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It’ parade. Again, I defy anyone not to enjoy this sort of stuff – the sun’s shining – everyone’s dancing and laughing – it’s absolutely full of energy and fun. Lulu danced with Donald (it’s his fluffy bum, apparently), Jane and I did the mashed potato and even Mr Incredible got in on the act by flexing his considerable pecs for us. Next came Peter Pan’s Flight, a lovely, more sedate glide across a miniature London and beyond, and a go on Disney’s first ever ride, It’s a Small World, which I actually found quite strangely sinister and Bride of Chucky-like, but very nice, nontheless. In the evening, the beautiful ‘Wishes’ fireworks rounded off the evening , along with an alarming ‘elbows out’ battle across a packed park to a very nice VIP seating area to watch the brightly lit Spectromagic parade. No mojitos (The Magic Kingdom is alcohol free), but all in all, pretty darn magical. Next up, it’s the Animal Kingdom and Epcot. Don’t go away!
So diverting my attention from the food for a moment, I thought I’d give you a little taster of what we, the intrepid Disney 7, put ourselves through just so we could report back to you about what it’s like to experience Walt Disney World at close quarters. See, the things we do for you?
First up, then, was the colossal watery infinity that is Typhoon Lagoon. Stepping, bleary eyed and jet-lagged out of the inferno-bus, we were met by our guide – whose name, very rudely, escapes me, but who was undoubtedly one of the most Disneyfied people we met on our trip. She was ridiculously, madly, rabidly in love with her job and I have to say, her enthusiasm was pretty infectious. First we had a good look (from a dry, fully-clothed perspective) at the Crush ‘n’ Gusher, the water roller coaster. Second up was Humunga Cowabunga. This is for you if you wish to be hurled at speeds of up to 40mph down a triple set of slides whilst achieving the biggest swimsuit-wedgie known to civilisation. The more sedate amongst us can grab an inflatable ring and spend a happy hour bobbing mindlessly around Castaway Creek (‘many a parent lost there, I can tell you’, said our guide), a lovely river which bimbles gently around the perimeter of the park, and which looked so relaxing we all nearly made a run for it and threw ourselves in. And there was still time to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and the 2.75 million gallon wave pool, complete with huge, explosive wave every 90 seconds for the daredevils amongst us (full learn-to-surf programme available – blonde, shaggy hair optional). There’s an amazing opportunity to snorkel with some real, live sharks on the shark-reef – a sunken tanker complete with its own wildlife and for the smalls, there’s even a little tiddler area, Ketchakiddee Creek, with little slides, rafts and bubbling jets and Gangplank Falls – a family raft slide. Oh, and those buckets of ice cream? The ones with the free spade? They’re $10. Mine’s a large one.
I’m not sure if Downtown Disney is actually a resort/park in its own right, but it really is a lovely place and not to be missed. Sadly, our Characters in Flight ride (the new Disney hot air balloon) was cancelled due to strong winds, but we headed off to gawp at the little princesses in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and make silly noises at teeny little baby clothes in the countless Disney shops (obviously, we spent a considerable time in the Disney kitchen shop, Mickey’s Pantry. While you’re there, don’t forget to visit Disney Design-A-Tee where you can customise your very own Disney t-shirt (I made an Englishmum.com one, obviously). There are loads of restaurants here (and Raglan Road Irish Pub too, I noticed), and we had a fabulous cob salad in the Earl of Sandwich, but hey, if you fancy a Macs, you’ll find that here too. My oldest nerd would have killed to get to DisneyQuest: five floors of interactive rides and games, and a lot of us would definitely have loved La Nouba, an amazing live act by Cirque du Soleil. Sadly, time beat us and we were off again, this time to Hollywood Studios: the Rock’n’Rollercoaster, the Towerrrrr of Terrorrrrr and Craig, the rubbish cocktail waiter. Tune in, if you’re still awake, for my next riveting instalment!
Okly dokly then. Back to Disney, where day 3 dawned bright and sparkly and found us tootling off to the Disney Boardwalk to have al-fresco breakfast at Spoodles. Rather lush Mediterranean fare can be found at this friendly establishment (hearing me chortling about hidden Mickeys, the staff very kindly presented me with my very own blue Mickey pin – I was choked, I can tell you). We were presented with loads of free taster plates, such as the lovely flatbreads (think thin pizza with lovely fresh toppings), and fruit platters, but eventually discounting the French toast and the full cooked breakfast, I gamely forced down a veritable MOUNTAIN of pancakes, with crispy bacon and maple syrup:
Off in the bloggerbus, then, to the amazingly beautiful Disney Grand Floridian. Modelled on the famous Chateau Marmont (Marilyn Monroe’s fave hangout, doncherknow). Driving up to this absolutely amazing resort, we were stunned into uncharacteristic silence (I wrote simply ‘wow’ in my notebook):
The Floridian is surrounded by a beautiful man-made lake, nestling across from the eye-watering white sand beach (guests can take out one of the resort speedboats if they feel the need for some privacy – no, really):
The spa is not only jaw-droppingly beautiful, but has a wide range of wondrous treatments as well as a gym if you absolutely insist on getting sweaty when you should be relaxing:
…where, having regaled (and slightly nauseated) each other with various motley spa stories (I shared the deeply in-depth double-boob-massage I experienced in Goa), and collapsed into snorty giggles again after a totally ridiculous ten minutes of complementary flip-flop swapping, we were swept away to various different treatment rooms where we oohed and ahhhed a happy hour away being pummeled into submission (or, in my case, being the only one that chose a facial, having my ‘congestion extracted’ – not pretty, I can tell you, but I glowed afterwards).
Stumbling blinking, and slightly greasily, into the dazzling sunshine once again, we stopped to cop a quick cheeky look at the wedding chapel (RANDOM DISNEY FACT: more than 2,600 couples get married at Walt Disney World every year) where Cinderella’s glass coach and powdery wigged footmen were in attendance:
And to have a good cackle when Laura pointed out that one of them had a rather-unDisney, porn-star bushy black moustache (sadly he was facing away from me). Oh, and we just had to grab a quick photo-op underneath the shady palms of the luscious white sandy beach:
Rather than ‘blogger down!’, this one was ‘blogger is running away and hiding so she never has to leave’. Tell you what, if I ever win the lottery, you’ll find me ensconced, counting my money, at the Grand Floridian and no mishtake. Off to the Grand Floridian Café for lunch, then, I was tempted by the pan-roasted Tilapia (sp?), just because I’d never heard of it, but settled in that ‘stomach thinks your throat’s been cut’ way that having something virtuous like a facial always makes me feel, for this little beauty:
…herb marinated chicken breast with cold smoked vine ripened tomatoes, cheddar, pesto mayonnaise and rocket, served on warm ciabatta. Oh and I had chips but Linda pinched them all.
The afternoon brought our first glimpse of The Magic Kingdom (more later!) where we caught our first jaw-dropping sight of Cinderella’s Castle, and sizzled, in a particularly white-skinned, European fashion, in the roasting sun :
(MORE RANDOM DISNEY FACTS: did you know that the Cinderella Castle is a whopping 189ft high and held together by 600 tons of steel? And did you also know that there are mice carved down the side of the castle? Thought not.) Oh and that’s Walt (brain not cryogenically frozen) Disney there in front of the castle.
Anyhoo, I defy even the most stone-hearted not to catch their breath. The thing is enormous. We amble past little shops, ice cream parlours and little bibbidi bobbidied princesses to whiz round some rides (nope – I’m not spilling – this is a food post – you’ll have to wait for the rides) and settled eventually at Tony’s at Toon Town Square (remember the little Italian restaurant from Lady and the Tramp?). Our waiter, the lovely Casey, makes us all feel like stars by taking the details of all our blogs (or alternatively, perhaps he was worried about what we’d write). Of course, I just had to order the spaghetti and meatballs, but Erica and Lulu completely spoiled it by refusing to do the spaghetti sharing thing with me. Party poopers.
So there we were. Fresh from the V-lounge at Gatwick where we drank complementary Innocent smoothies and nibbled free pastries. Child-free for an entire week. Sipping champagne. Nestled in our comfy seats with the pull-out footrest and the flip-out video screen. Our seats on the top deck of the Virgin Atlantic plane. In premium economy (oh yes, dahling, Disney upgraded us). Well, dear reader, we completely lost the plot. There was giggling. And quite a lot of ‘oh my God’, some snorty laughter, but mostly giggling.
So you know the story – bunch of ordinary extraordinary Mummy bloggers get invited on trip-of-a-lifetime to Walt Disney World where they stay in Deluxe Disney Resorts, visit all the others, get VIP tours round all the parks, sample all the best Disney restaurants and hobnob with the likes of Mickey and Daisy…
It happened. It really did. But it was actually better than that. My fellow bloggers were kind, sweet, ridiculously funny and raving alcoholics to boot. We had the time of our lives. I will bore you to death with this in more intricate nauseatingly mind-numbing detail, but I’ll leave you, for now, with my Disney top-ten moments:
- Finding out that just because you go to Disney you don’t have to eat burgers and fries. I didn’t eat a burger the whole time. I ate meltingly tender steaks… the sweetest scallops… the crispest, spiciest calamari… the freshest red snapper… the most sumptuous desserts… oh I could go on. Well, I actually will go on. Just give me time.
- Rediscovering the ability to actually be a bit of a kid again: I danced. I ate until I felt sick. I screamed on roller coasters. I ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhhed’ at lions and giraffes. I nearly wet my pants laughing when Laura fell over in the bus (‘blogger down!’). I got completely involved in American Idol and screeched like a lunatic when my favourite won. I got kissed by Chip ‘n’ Dale. I swam in azure waters. I laughed until I cried (in fact, I snorted uncontrollably, but that was because Linda was present).
- My first glimpse of the Grand Floridian Hotel. There are no superlatives. They have speedboats on the lake for the guests. No, really.
- Bursting into spontaneous tears watching the ‘Wishes’ firework display at The Magic Kingdom. And I wasn’t the only one.
- Rushing up to a couple of newlyweds wearing ‘Groom’ and ‘Bride’ Mickey ears and asking to take their photos (I have no shame). Evidence to follow.
- Visiting the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique where little girls can get a full Disney princess makeover (and later stumbling upon miniature princesses resplendent in full princess regalia tootling around the parks with their parents).
- Sitting in total wonderment as a roomful of little kids sit in front of an aquarium and have a real conversation with Crush from ‘Finding Nemo’ – he answers their questions and everything!!! Awesome, Dude.
- Resisting the urge to dive fully clothed into the enormous Melt-Away Bay – one whole acre of turquoise loveliness, complete with a rockin’ wave machine.
- Taking part in some really extreme hotel testing: this involved cutting myself shaving (it was a bit of a gusher) and not knowing what to do with my bloody towels (blood’s just not really that Disney is it?) and leaving them piled in the bath like some sort of serial killer; Laura exploding a bottle of coke, sending sticky fountains of spray over our fellow Beach Club guests; Alice causing the coffee machine to sponaneously combust and coating her entire room in a fine layer of coffee and Linda nearly killing an entire family of chino-clad American guests with her toppling suitcase (they went over like dominos which was, of course, not in the remotest bit amusing).
- Finding ourselves so totally and utterly dependent on the wondrous Sarah (or Mary Poppins as she became known) to the extent that whenever we found ourselves without her we were unable to function. Once, she stopped in the middle of the road to take a call and we all immediately ground to a halt next to her – risking life and limb like a band of happy lemmings. What will we do now we no longer have Sarah to shuffle along behind in a tight arrowhead formation?
Ah, happy memories. And much more to come. No, come back, I’ve only just started…
So being a bit of an Ebay-addicted household, lovely Ciaran the postie is well used to being mugged at the door of English Towers by eager parcel recipients. Friday was no exception, then, when my copy of Merry Kitschmas, The Ultimate Holiday Handbook by Michael D Conway finally arrived. I’ve been looking for it for ages after glimpsing it on the shelf behind someone on some tv programme or other (it might even have been a Nigella programme – I can’t remember now).
This treasure trove of the cheap and tacky is exactly what Christmas should be about. I mean, how did people survive Christmas before Michael Conway taught them how to make a Frosty the Chocoholic Snowman cocktail (above left) or a Santa’s Little Helper (above right). The one in the middle, in case you’re interested, is a Chocolate Candy Cane (1 part grenadine, one part peppermint vodka and one part Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur – garnished with a chocolate-dipped candy cane).
And for your festive food, how about a Weener Tree? It’s perfect for your Kitschmas cocktail party. Or why not decorate the table with an enormous styrofoam snowman (completely covered in white mini marshmallows) and on Christmas night, hang the Manipulative Parent’s Reversible Stocking on the mantelpiece: on one side it says ‘nice’ and on the other it says ‘naughty’. Threaten to hang it ‘naughty’ side out unless they do everything you say this Christmas.
And let’s face it: any recipe that starts with ‘3 x 3oz boxes sparkling white grape-flavoured gelatin’ gets my vote. So come on, spray that fake aerosol snow on your windows, crank up the wattage on the flashing Rudolph on your front lawn and be lavish with the tinsel. Celebrate your inner trailer trash. What? It’s Christmas.
Firstly can I just say that I hate Ryanair? Hate, hate, hate Ryanair. I know, I know, it’s dirt cheap and all that, but when you’ve walked miles, queued for hours and then find you can’t sit anywhere near your children in a hot, sweaty cabin and there’s no room in the overheads for your hand luggage? Grrr, I could kill that feckin’ Michael O’Leary.
Awwww, we had such a lovely time. We went out for dinner with the Disreputable One when we arrived on the Friday night (after he picked us up from the airport in his swanky new 4×4 – thanks Dad!), then stayed at me Ma’s for the weekend. Arriving in the pub before the wedding was fantastic, seeing all my friends and family, my much-missed sisters in law, my lubly brothers, my beautiful nieces and big strapping nephew was just amazing. The church service was surprisingly emotional although I have to say that it was the adults that did the naughty giggling – the kids all stood together and shot us withering glances as we misbehaved – it was Hubby’s fault, he did silly singing, and then some little teeny girl went ‘I WANT A WEE!’ in a really loud voice which set us all off again. All went swimmingly apart from some rather bizarre parental goings on (note to my parents: I love you both madly but jaysus, go out for a coffee together and sort yourselves out already).
Mrs M looked absolutely stunning in a slinky green silk fishtail dress – I don’t care what anyone says there wasn’t a single pair of eyes that weren’t glued to her fantastically peachy bottom as she walked down the aisle.
The evening bash was full of fun and laughter. We had a total riot and the boys had loads of fun with their cousins. Mad Uncle A behaved himself (almost) – actually, Sensible Uncle I was just as naughty – and Mrs Sensible was challenging Hubby to down shots of Mrs M’s traditional 80% proof fire-water. Wow, it took your taste buds clean off.
Moon gave the longest, most boring speech I’ve ever heard (nah, not really – he made me cry twice which is probably a record) and then we all clinked glasses and shouted ‘Nastrovya!’ and downed the traditional Slovakian shot things (wow!) before stuffing our faces at the buffet, then dancing the night away. The Slovakian contingent held their own admirably in both the drinking and the falling over on the dance floor, but in true English fashion, it was all wrapping up by midnight – in Ireland we’d only just be getting started!
We rounded off a manic but happy weekend with one of my Ma’s epic Sunday lunches and then it was back to the airport with our Disreputable Chauffeur for another wrestle with our hand luggage. We arrived home, tired but elated, to find an ecstatic Bert who sang us a little whiny song, he was so happy to see us.
Highlights of the weekend, then:
- Stealing me Ma’s car and rushing round to my friend J’s beautiful new house to catch a glimpse of scrumptious little J and her new baby, M, who I’ve never even seen – we both stood and burst into tears, which made us laugh.
- My mate, C, taking the time to pop to the church to wish Moon luck and say a quick hello to me and Hubby (I wanted to cry again – I’m getting old, I think)
- The photographer shouting ‘No! look at her face!’ when Moon’s gaze kept wandering downwards
- My nieces, who have turned from cute little girls into beautiful young ladies.
- Above-mentioned niece, A, being bribed by Sensible Uncle I’s mates to balance sachets of mayonnaise on the head of Moon’s brother-in-law who was asleep in the corner after coming over all ‘tired and emotional’
- Boogying on the dance floor with my boys, me Ma, Mrs M and a gaggle of her Slovakian mates
- The scary amount of people who came up to me and said ‘ooh, I read your blog!’
- Moon, staggering around with a box of Montecristo cigars saying ‘this is the happiest day of my life’ in a somewhat slurry fashion.
So there you have it. A lovely weekend, a perfect wedding, and a very deserving couple. Here’s to you, Moon and Mrs M: wishing you a long, happy and very giggly life together. Mwah!
- Morning rituals: coconut chai tea May 25, 2017
- How Mickey Mouse changed my life #BAHolidayMoments May 24, 2017
- Family holidays in Kissimmee: fab villas and outdoor fun! May 23, 2017
- The weekend wishlist: summer glow May 20, 2017
- Post 40 beauty: a hair revamp with The Hair Secret, Berkhamsted May 18, 2017