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.

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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…

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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?

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Multi fuel stove

More house news and wood burning stoves

So another thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about on the house front is having a fire.  At the moment we have rather an ugly ten year old gas fire.  It’s not pretty, it smells a bit funny and it’s a long way from the crackling log fire that I dream about.  The question is, what to do with it? Our first plan was just to rip it out, give us a bit more room in the lounge and be done with it, but then we started looking at fireplaces and stoves and it seems we do have some options.

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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.

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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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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 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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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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Toothpick – a new way to find a dentist

If you want to go out for dinner, or stay in a hotel, there are loads of different websites with tons of reviews, so you can see whether the staff were friendly, or whether the food was good.  This approach is starting to take hold in other industries too.  I recently found a new hairdresser by searching online and was able to read reviews of local hairdressers and even pick the particular stylist that I thought would best suit me.

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Black Friday

A guide to Black Friday

Originating in the US – named after the shopping carnage seen in Philadelphia the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday has now established itself in the UK. The discount deals available rival the New Year’s sales and provide the perfect opportunity to get some bargain Christmas presents. However, with just 24 hours to snap up the deals it is worth getting prepared. This guide is designed to equip you with all the knowledge you need to make the most out of this year’s Black Friday.

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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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Four reasons you should ‘refresh your refrigerator’!

Like most of your home and kitchen appliances, once your fridge is installed and working correctly, you barely even notice that it’s there. Even if it’s an enormous, plastic-looking white fridge from the ‘90s, it’s likely been a fixture of your kitchen for so long that the way it looks doesn’t bother you. You probably hardly even notice the smell when you open it any more. And when the energy bills come in, you likely pay it without thinking about how much it’s costing you – that’s just how much they cost to run, right?

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In your dreams, pal...

TWO teenagers driving? Give me strength!

Happy half term!  We’ve been really busy planning a trip to Florida next week (it’s Mr English’s 50th while we’re over there too), and I spent the weekend in London with my friend Erica (more of this very soon).  There’s also been more work on The Secret Special Thing that Cannot be Mentioned.  All will be revealed soon, I promise.

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The gardens at Le Manoir

The Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons with Kenwood Chef Sense

Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to Raymond Blanc’s beautiful Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire.  I’ve wanted to visit for ages, so I was beside myself with excitement.  As I drove up, I dithered outside the front gate in my car, not really knowing what to do, and instantly, a friendly gentleman in an immaculate suit rushed out to help, escorting me to the reception and driving my car off to park it for me.  First impressions?  Pretty darned good.

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The signature warm chocolate-banana torte at Citricos

Free dining with 2015 Walt Disney World holidays!

Our lovely visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando seems such a long time ago now.  I’m already pining for the sunshine, for Anna and Elsa, and, more importantly, all that amazing food.

Once upon a time (see what I did there?) I think most people thought that all you could probably eat while you were at Walt Disney World parks and resorts was junk food, or maybe Mickey-shaped ice creams.  Now, people are starting to realise that Walt Disney World features some of the best dining in the world, whether you’re after a snack, quick-service, grab and go option, or proper fine dining with table service.

So what can you expect?

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Brewing up our Pact coffee

Coffee tasting with Pact Coffee (and try your first bag for just £1)

We’re a bit divided on coffee in this house: Charlie and Mr English are hard-core coffee NUTS.  As far as they’re concerned coffee should be strong and black (and preferably served on demand throughout the day).  This contrasts completely with Sam and I, who like milky lattes.   I’ve even been known to add in a bit of cinnamon sugar for good measure.  In coffee shops, the hard-core boys will go for Americano with an extra shot and I’ll ask for a latte with just half a shot of coffee, which makes them roll their eyes, so we’re proper chalk and cheese.

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