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Chopping board from Getting Personal

A lovely giveaway for English Mum’s eighth birthday *closed*

So this week, my little corner of the internet is celebrating its eighth birthday.  Eight whole years of talking waffle!  I was telling someone recently (in the manner of a very old lady) that when I started out, I knew most of the other ‘mummy bloggers’ out there.  There weren’t very many and we all felt like friends, commenting on each other’s blog posts and actually meeting up in real life occasionally too! Read more

Review: Blogging – The Essential Guide by Antonia Chitty and Erica Douglas

I am pretty blessed. I have a great bunch of friends. I’m rather proud that my friends are all clever, funny, incredible supportive and all very successful. Take Erica, for example. I first met Erica on my first ever blogging trip – we’re both members of the ‘Disney 7′. We all bonded over mojitos and have stayed firm friends. At the time it was such a big deal that a company were sending bloggers away on a trip that it was even mentioned in The Times.

Now, blogging is a much more popular pastime, but starting a blog can be hard. Occasionally I get emails from people asking how to get started. The conversation normally goes something like this:

Me: ‘Okay, well, y’know WordPress, right?’

Wannabe blogger: ‘No’

Me: ‘Erm oh. Well, you kind of need to… erm… Well, there’s a dashboard, see, and you can upload posts and then, erm…’

And there you have it: ‘how to blog’ by English Mum. It’d be a pretty crap book.

Luckily, then, the aforementioned lovely Erica has come to our rescue. Now a hugely successful ‘Mumpreneur’ who runs courses helping other mums start their own businesses and is the joint owner of ACE Inspire which provides remote courses and produces eBooks on business blogging, social media and online marketing, she still writes Littlemummy.com (when she has time!). Erica has come to our rescue and written a fabulous book: Blogging – The Essential Guide with her business partner, Antonia Chitty.

I think it says a great deal that even though I’ve been writing this blog for six years, I still learned loads of new things. For a complete beginner, this book is a blogging bible, with chapters on creating your blog, ideas for blog posts, loads of hints about community, sensible words about plagiarism and disclosure, etc. But more than this, there are some really clever sections on things like podcasting and eBooks.

So if you’ve ever thought about starting your own blog (I’m a pretty good advert for blogging, I reckon – it’s taken me around the world and given me a million and one brilliant opportunities), you should definitely buy this book. And if you’re already blogging, it’s invaluable for fresh ideas, as a great reference tool and for some really good, down to earth advice.

Blogging – The Essential Guide by Antonia Chitty & Erica Douglas is out now.

Dear Mr Avis… a letter from Cybermummy 2011

Dear Mr Avis

It’s me, English Mum.

Remember me?  I’m the one who reversed over a bollard in the ‘bloggerbus’ you gave me when my friends came over?

Yup, that one.

Thank you very much for sponsoring me to attend Cybermummy 2011.  I had such a great time.  I met loads of people that I talk to on Twitter, I listened to Erica talk about monetising and working with brands…

I listened to Taralara talking about her amazing gallery:

I met my lovely chums from Disney, and loads of new people from HP and Ubisoft, Three and Cuticura… I sipped Sancerre with my buddy Helen from the Knackered Mother’s Wine Club, and the lovely chaps at Naked Wines

I met Cara Freckles who had travelled all the way to Cybermummy clutching a gorgeous chicken that she’d knitted me…

And at the end of the day, I went with my mates and had amazing tapas and a few cocktails…

BUT…

I might have accidentally forgotten to pick up the lovely Fiat 500 you were giving me for the week.

In my defence, I’d driven straight off the midnight ferry and hadn’t got home until 6am.  I was quite tired, and still had a whole van to unpack and a whole storage locker to fill up.  My feet were a bit sore and I was a teeny bit pooped.

I’m really sorry, but I had a fab time anyway, even though forgetting to pick up the car meant that I had to get the tube, and the Central Line was closed, and I had to walk a long way too.

I know what you’re thinking…

Serves me right.

I had a good time though.

Thanks again!

Lots of love,

English Mum

xx

Wikio’s Top 20 UK gastronomy blogs

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.

1 Maison Cupcake
2 Fuss Free Flavours
3 englishmum.com
4 The English Can Cook
5 Chocablog
6 eat like a girl
7 Cook Sister!
8 meemalee’s kitchen
9 Hollow Legs
10 Food Stories
11 www.Prepped.co.uk
12 The Pink Whisk
13 Tinned Tomatoes
14 Belleau Kitchen
15 Utterly Scrumptious Food For Families
16 Fresh from the oven
17 Feeding boys and a firefighter
18 Chocolate Log Blog
19 London Eater
20 youngandfoodish

Ranking made by Wikio

Around the web in 20 clicks: in praise of bloggers

I love blogging.  I’ve met all manner of wonderful people (and the odd horrible one), both in real life and online, travelled, visited amazing places and made loads of friends.  Sometimes, when I’m reading the gazillions of blogs that I subscribe to, I think it would be nice to tell other people about the fantastic things my friends and fellow bloggers write about and photograph.  There are always so many amazing things on the internet: great recipes, fun stories, great photos…

So I thought I’d put together a little ‘top 20′ for you to enjoy at your leisure. Think of it as my gift to you for November.  Some are old, some are new, but all are brilliant.  Enjoy!

1. Like Mam Used To Bake went to Barcelona.  This is such an amazing piece – great photos, loads of restaurant reviews… bookmark it if you’re ever tempted to visit.

2. Laura changed the habit of a lifetime, got busy in the kitchen and made a really scrummy spicy butternut squash soup.

3. Liz sparked serious debate when she asked ‘do you support the decision to scrap child benefit for those earning over 44k?

4. My lovely cousin, Don’t Bug Me, taught us all about hummingbirds (and showed us some beautiful photos too).

5. The Glutton made the most gorgeous home made sausages with cider and mustard gravy.  Nomnomnom.

6. Lovely Karen got married.

7.  And so did the beautiful Miss Power (sorry, Mrs Lister!) – check out the cheese wedding cake!

8. My mate Erica ticked another thing off her ’100 things to do before I die’ list and attended a foodie festival.

9. Lu gave us all exercises for the perfect arse (squeeze that pelvic floor, people)

10. 40NotOut encouraged us to wrap up in these inspired winter knits.

11.  Rach from Tales from the Village visited the Highlands, and took some stunning photos.

12. Joanna came face to face with Take That!

13. Shit Mummy nearly suffered Death by Polyester.

14. Tara photographed possibly the cutest witch I’ve ever seen (edit: I do apologise, she was a spider).

15. The lovely chaps at Yeo Valley released their farmer rap on iTunes (with lovely Ted the Wol on the front cover).  I love Ted.

16. Liz and family over at Violet Posy did some pumpkin carving.

17.  Josie met a lean, green, fighting machine.  Well, a frog.

18. The Cornish foodie made gingerbread skeletons.

19. My fab cousin, Moon and his family slaughter their pigs (fascinating, but be warned, the pics are a bit graphic)

20. And finally, we waved goodbye to Wallop.  Victoria and her family set out on their epic adventure.  Good luck, guys! x

PS: If any bloggers would like to take up the baton and write about their 20 favourite recent blog posts, that would be fab.

Hadrian’s Walk

So today, some of my loveliest blogger friends will be attempting Hadrian’s Walk in support of The Joseph Salmon Trust, a wonderful charity providing financial support for those who have lost a child.

Basically, the nutters are walking the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall, yes, that’s 84 miles across the entire width of England.

And they need our help.  Check out the blog, here:

http://www.hadrianswalk.org/

Enter the raffle, here:

http://www.justgiving.com/hadriansraffle

Donate here:

http://www.justgiving.com/hadrianswalkers

And support all my wonderful blogging friends by visiting their blogs and giving them a few words of support (what? of course they’ll be checking, they’re bloggers):

http://www.insomniacmummy.com/

http://singleparentdad.blogspot.com/

http://www.jobeaufoix.com/

http://dadwhowrites.wordpress.com/

http://allthatcomeswithit.com/

and bigging the walk up on Facebook and Twitter (if you’re a fellow nerd), or just sending them happy, blister-free thoughts.

Please, please dig deep – the trust is a shining beacon in the darkness of every parent’s worst nightmare and seriously needs our support.

Thank you.

Good luck, guys!

The Great British Blog Festival. ‘Finding my voice’

This post is brought to you by Muddling Along Mummy and is the last in the series of hosted blogs as part of The Great British Blog Festival.

Blogging was something I discovered whilst confined to bed rest during my pregnancy with Babygirl – it was a way of being able to meet people and to talk about what was going on whilst I spent far too much time lying on my left side trying to keep Babygirl safe.

Faced with my return to work after my maternity leave I was suddenly confronted with the question as to whether I would be able to continue to blog or whether I would have to consign it to the list of nice things I did whilst on leave, along with coffee with my friends and afternoon naps.

I figured it was worth giving it a go, not least because I’d become mildly addicted to twitter and reckoned it might be useful having an outlet and to be able to pick the brains of others who had been there, seen it, done it and got several t-shirts.

I did have a nagging concern about the time required given I was already in need of another 6 hours a day and the worry that work might find out about my blog and that it could cause issues for me professionally.

The professional reputation thing does still worry me. But I hope that my colleagues and clients won’t be looking for me to write a ‘mummy blog’.

The time thing was harder. I discovered I could write posts on my phone on the train, that I could think about them whilst putting the girls to bed, that I could find ways to make it fit in. To be honest it was difficult finding a balance – finding time to spend with my husband whilst still keeping a toe in the blogworld.

What was a real life saver was occasionally taking a proper coffee break. Going to the coffee shop around the corner from my office and taking half an hour out of my working day – half an hour to chat to my friends on twitter, to read blog posts, to remind myself that whilst there might not have been likeminded people in my office there certainly were in the virtual world and they were on my side.

So yes, I can combine blogging with a full time job, two children and sometimes talking to my husband. I do read less posts than I want to (sorry if I’ve missed something great you’ve written – send me an email, tell me on twitter, and I will read it) and do spend less time than perhaps I’d like BUT I’ve discovered that blogging is an important thing to me, it’s a facet of my life and as such I’m continuing to do it.

Its in blogging about trying to find this balance that I have found my blog ‘voice’, the thing that stands behind my blog, its philosophy and the reason why I do it.

The Great British Blog Festival. ‘Blogging: Stranger danger?’

This post is brought to you by Young Mummy as part of The Great British Blog Festival.

‘Well, blogging’s for weirdos, isn’t it?’

My mum’s comment immediately made me regret telling her I was writing a blog about my life with newborn twins.  I regretted it even more when she started giving me articles about the dangers lurking online, and warning me about any strangers who may try to befriend me – they might have been reading my blog and be after my babies. She views the blogging world with a paranoia and suspicion she is unable to shake.

I started my blog to help my in-laws feel involved in their grandchildren’s lives, despite living a long way away.  Then I stumbled upon British Mummy Bloggers, and discovered that blogging is about being part of a community and interacting with others.  Since then I’ve thrown myself in, following lots of blogs, commenting regularly, and forging friendships with other bloggers. Twitter was the final breakthrough and now I share more with a lot of my online friends than I do with my friends in the ‘real’ world.

From an outsider’s perspective, it all seems pretty strange.  If I get spotted tweeting on a night out with friends, I brace myself for a barrage of ‘geek!’ taunts.  I think most of my friends’ knowledge and experience of social networking begins and ends with Facebook – where they know all their ‘friends’ personally.  Trying to explain why I would be answering comments on my blog from people I’ve never met is met with a blank, uncomprehending expression.  ‘Why would you want to talk to people you don’t know?’  The fact that I am attending a blogging conference (Cybermummy) has caused great hilarity and derision.

But it’s worth it.

Blogging has filled a void caused by my discomfort talking about my babies with my ‘real’ friends, most of whom don’t have children.  In the blogosphere I’m allowed to write about whatever I like, and I don’t have to worry I’m becoming a ‘baby bore.’  I’ve made connections with people I would never have some across in daily life.  I’ve started meeting some of my online friends in person now, and it’s been fantastic.

Some of my ‘real’ friends who follow my blog have enjoyed it so much that they’ve been drawn into the blogosphere.  They don’t blog themselves, but through my blog have discovered new blogs to read.  Their enthusiasm and support in the face of so much negativity has meant the world to me.

And my parents-in-law – the reason I started the blog in the first place – they read it religiously.  And that makes me happy.

The Great British Blog Festival. ‘Inspired to Create’

This post is brought to you by Snaffles Mummy as part of The Great British Blog Festival.

I can still remember being around 10 years old and my grandma teaching me to knit. Since then I have been literally hooked on crafting. Knitting, scrap booking, card making, sewing, baking and more recently crocheting.

From holey scarves at age 10 to the intricate lace shawls I now make.

Each craft discovered after trawling through books, magazines and internet sites for tips and techniques on my latest hobby.

As with any crafter my hands and fingers are always itching for the next project.  It is impossible for me to have only one project on the go.

Since discovering the blogging community my love for crafting has only grown.  My recently learnt crocheting was inspired after seeing the beautiful creations of other bloggers.  Patterns, guides and techniques discovered from a variety of blogs until eventually I was able to recreate some of the items which had originally inspired me.

What has struck me the most about the blogging community is how open and willing they are to share their crafts with others.

They are not simply sharing photos of their creations to attract praise.  From their patterns, recipes , and material suppliers they are willing to share it all with you.

Carefully thought out tutorials with photographs of every step, helpful comments and links to sites which may also help.  If you get stuck you know they will be willing to help if they can.

I am overwhelmed at how sharing other bloggers are.  There are no secrets, no aim to keep their craft to themselves.  They are willing to share their love with others and eager to see how you interpret their craft.

Nothing pleases a crafter more than seeing what you inspired others to create.

I have been so inspired that my list of things to re-create is getting longer each day.  To see a collection of what has inspiring me have a look at my posterous site where you will find full photos, links and instructions to an array of beautiful items.

Here are just a few of the items which have inspired me recently and here are my interpretations of them:

Sugar cubes inspired by The Mad House

Gathered Clutch inspired by Noodlehead

No Sew Bunting inspired by Red Ted Art

I hope that the blogging community continues to be so open, honest and sharing.

The Great British Blog Festival. ‘Blogging is my pub’

This post is brought to you by Moon from Rambling Thoughts of Moon, as part of The Great British Blog Festival:

So… why do we blog … ?

Well, I know exactly why I blog … to tell and talk to people about my crazy choice of life !

I started blogging when English Mum introduced me to her blog. I saw it as a great way to be able to talk with my family, friends about my adventures, and for me to introduce myself to an ever growing list of friends I was making all over the world. You see, I made an interesting life choice in March of 2008. I had met a wonderful Slovak girl, and we were very happy. I was working in The City as a commercial Underwriter, loving my job, successful, BMW in the drive .. all happy times. She went off on a business trip to Mexico and then California, only for her company to ask her to stay on a while in the USA. ‘A While’ was eventually for 2 years !. I decided to pack my things, leave my job, rent my house and fly to live out in Newport Beach for 2 years. We went through the hassles of Visa, a 3 month period of me being stranded in Canada, got married, and loved every experience we could get in America. We saw some of the wonders of the world, drove 1000′s of miles to see as many national parks as we could, walked on the beach at night, and generally lived the dream.

This all came crashing down when I my renewal of my visa was delayed, I was again stranded in Canada, and this time I lost my job. So, we decided there and then to pack up and leave. I flew home, and left my wife to close out 2 years of our lives on her own. A huge effort from her, whilst I waited helplessly at home. So, onto a simpler life in the UK… not for us. within a week of her coming back, we shipped everything to Slovakia .. and here I am … learning a new language, new culture, new family… and a baby on the way. I have no work as yet… and we are about to buy an old cottage that will need so many alterations … we must be crazy !!!!!

So… why I blog … well, how else could I possible get to tell people this story… my old friends…. my new friends, and just interested passers through my blog. simply, you couldn’t, and I would be bored of typing 60 emails a week to let them now how the roller coaster ride is going. We love our photographs too, and I show them off as often as I can. I don’t know of anyone who has actually seen Slovakia as a country, as far as I am aware, I am the only Slovak blogger. It’s an amazing country, so full of beauty and history. The people are warm and kind, the food is good, and the beer is cold !

Why do others blog ?.. I guess you would have to ask them, but I think we all have a small ego that wants to be out there and noticed, and with a blog it can be done from home, no public speaking and often anonymous. I choose not to be anonymous, I don’t really mind if people know who I am. Once my little one comes along I will change and never post pictures etc, but for me I am happy to be out there. Blogging is my pub. My place to chat, express views, laughs, even some tears at times. I get people logging in from all over the world, some great old friends, some people I will never meet. It’s a great feeling when you have written a long blog, and then the replies and comments start to come in. We all live for comments don’t we ?… I get surprised when I write a meaningless post and I get lots of comments, and then other days I think my blog was pretty good… and I get nothing ! I post pictures, and people like the worst of them… I like to hear their opinions, and they can comment without being judged.

It’s an weird community us bloggers…. glad I am one of them !

The Great British Blog: a thing of beauty

This post is part of The Great British Blog Festival, where bloggers from all walks of life, all fields, all specialities, all interests, will be joining in and celebrating this fabulous thing that is blogging (or web-logging, as it first started out).  Click the link to find more great blog entries for the festival over at LittleMummy.com.

Englishmum.com is a host blog for the festival, so this week, on here, as well as on various other host blogs, you’ll find a different blogger writing every day about something to do with blogging, whether it be a vlog (video blog), a post about the technical aspects of blogging, personal experiences, tutorials or list posts – do pop in and have a read – there’ll be something for everyone.  Kicking off the week, then, is… erm… me:

But what exactly is a blog, or a web-log or whatever, I hear you ask?  Well, according to Wikipedia, it is:

“a type of website or part of a website.  Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. “Blog” can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.”

A blog can be anything from an online diary of day to day family life, through to a collection of 140 character cake reviews – a celebration of everything British, or a ‘letter home’ from foreign climes.

The great thing about blogging is that whoever you are or whatever you write about, there’ll be a little community just waiting to welcome you.  There are parenting communities, foodie communities, and fabulous fashion blogging communities.  Maybe you’re a woman who likes to write – be it fiction, poetry or even travel writing?  Well you can join Judith’s Room, where you can submit your work for other people to read, chat to other writers, or get support if things aren’t going right?

These communities show the sheer power of blogging – a blogger is never alone, there’s always someone, somewhere floating about in the dark recesses of the internet with similar view or interests, or five minutes to spare.  And what better example than Bloggers for Haiti?  What started out as an email between friends suggesting that we each do a blog post raising money for a JustGiving page, ended up spreading across the whole of the country, and even across the world.  The generosity of my wonderful, supportive commenters (some of whom have been reading my blog since I started writing four years ago) absolutely amazed me, and I discovered some fantastic new blogs to read too.  Bloggers for Haiti raised £4351.50, plus numerous other donations to the DEC fund.  A fantastic achievement and an example of the sheer force of community in blogging.

If you’re a mum and fancy having a go at writing a blog, check out my lovely friend Erica’s fantastic new Mum Blogger Ebook (if you’re not a Mum, don’t be put off by the title – there’s lots in here for any form of blogging: right from starting your own blog, to Search Engine Optimisation, right through to dealing with the press and PR companies (which you will, once you become a famous blogger in your own right!).  I’ve been blogging for four years, but still learned absolutely loads.

The eBook is £25 at full price, but you can buy it for £20 (including the monetise your blog download as a bonus chapter which sells separately for £5).  Just enter the discount code:  ENGLISHMUM20

The Real Food Festival

So yesterday, me and my chief photographer, AKA The Death Wish Child (armed with his new camera) travelled to The Real Food Festival at Earls Court as guests of the lovely Nick from My Daddy Cooks

With the big four dominating our food industry (yes, yes, I know it’s convenient to buy strawberries at Christmas, but sheesh…) The Real Food Festival is a great idea to give our fabulous small food producers a push.  The organisers of the festival even go so far as to subsidise food and drink producers so they can join the festival and get their names (and their fabulous products) out there for everyone to see.

Here’s a few highlights of our day:

Watching Nick (and little Archie) up on the bandstand talking about My Daddy Cooks (and even welling up a little listening to all that applause!)

Tasting the scrumptious ‘Britfruit’ frozen yogurt and talking mango with the lovely Chris from Arctic Farm very near English Towers up at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.

Stroking beautiful, gentle Petal the Water Buffalo from Laverstoke Park Farm and talking to her ‘Dad’ all about the benefits of buffalo milk (much easier to digest than normal cow’s milk)

Meeting walking chilli encyclopaedia and all round nice girl Joanna Plumb from Edible Ornamentals who supplies, amongst others, former Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers’ fabulous Mexican Restaurant, Wahaca.

Bagging an invitation from Simon Mead to come and visit P E Mead and Sons and watch them making their fabulous Chiltern Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Rapeseed Oil!

Sampling the wares of the amazing vodka- and gin-making legends that are Sipsmith (shout out to lovely James for his enthusiasm – and big samples!).  I’m not a big vodka drinker, but their gin was absolutely delicious – really floral and aromatic. Nom nom:

Chatting to the lovely Rob Bookham from Bookham’s Real Food about his gorgeous parmesan-like cheese, fantastically named Not Just a Pasta Cheese, and trying out his new Sussex Charmer, a delicious cross between Cheddar and Parmesan.  Drool.

Indulging in a rare old tasting session with Penny from Bramley and Gage the liqueur makers, and getting great advice about using their Organic Sloe Gin to add to champagne to make a ‘Sloegasm’ (ooh, and their Elderflower Liqueur is out of this world too).

Meeting Paul Wayne Gregory and trying his amazing popping candy chocolate, while chatting about his chocolate making courses.

Meeting (and tweeting) the lovelies from Vegware and finally getting to see their amazing collection of fully compostable food packaging (yup, they even do cupcake boxes – with see through windows made of corn starch – clever buggers!).

Sharing some beautiful, fragrant Jasmine tea at the Mad Hatters’ Tea Party with the equally beautiful and fragrant Henrietta from The Rare Tea Company.

And finally, the temptation was strong, but we finally managed to tear ourselves away without shoving one of these gorgeous little piglets up our jumpers:

Guest Post Day: in which Rosie Scribble takes over at English Mum

The surreal and unpredictable world of blogging

It is with some apprehension, I suspect, that English Mum has handed her blog over to me for the day while she guest posts on mine.  She has given me free reign over her corner of cyberspace and permission to write whatever I like.  Only in the rather surreal world of blogging would anyone invite a friend over despite the fact they have never actually met in real life.  Thankfully, English Mum is a great ‘virtual’ friend so I’m comfortable visiting here and she has left her fridge well stocked for me.  There’s even a cupcake or two with my name on.

My own blog is generally a light-hearted look at life as the single parent of a six-year-old who thinks she runs the household.  However, I do catch people off guard at times by throwing in a very heavy post or by attempting to tackle issues I feel strongly about – like six year olds taking SATS exams.

As a result, English Mum really has no idea what angle this post is going to take or where any of this is heading…

Well, it’s all about the surreal and unpredictable world of blogging.  Several months ago I received an email from a fabulous blogger whose posts I’d read but had never had contact with before.  She asked a group of us if we would be interested in using our blogs to raise money for the Haiti earthquake victims.  Naturally, we all agreed and between us we managed to raise over £4000. That blogger was English Mum.  We have emailed and tweeted ever since and have become good friends.  I’ve read her posts with interest, she has commented on mine, and I’ve also become friends with @EnglishGrandma on twitter, who I must add is a gem.

Now, thanks to Little Mummy’s Guest Blog Day, I have been given this unexpected opportunity to guest post on English Mum’s blog.  Only in Blogland could things like this happen.

My life is slightly different to English Mum’s.  For one thing I cannot bake – a fact that may alarm many readers.  So, there will be no recipe suggestions here.  Also, I am yet to enter the slightly scary and unpredictable world of parenting teenagers.  My daughter is just six.

So while English Mum tackles the issues of secondary schools, homework, adopting greyhounds, dog training, handling sleepovers, writing sensible book reviews, producing incredible recipes, and tackling the issue of political correctness with a teenager on her own blog, my life is a little different.

Conversations with a six-year-old tend to start with questions such as these:

• Is Santa watching me?

• Why is Grandpa’s hair grey but Granny’s isn’t?

• Why can’t I have chocolate for breakfast?

• Is Granny the same age as you?

• Can I have a pair of high-heeled shoes?

• Where do babies come from?

So you see, slightly different, for now at least, although things will change of course as they always do.  You never know, one day I may become inspired to start baking.  Stranger things have happened.

For regular readers hoping for a more food-themed post, my daughter has obliged by posing with her favourite party cake book:

She has also chosen a complicated Mermaid cake with elaborate blue icing that I suspect only English Mum could bake.  There’s time though, her birthday is not until July ;)

If you want to find me today, I’m over at Rosie Scribble’s blog making Lemon Meringue Cupcakes – pop over and say hi!

EM xx

In which my mojo returns and I make ganache with Green & Black’s

Green & Black's Milk Cook's Chocolate

So as you know, I kinda lost my blogging mojo.

It all started to really bug me.  I mean, what am I exactly? A foodie blogger? In which case, should I concentrate on food, and not talk so much arse? Or am I a ‘mummy blogger’ (how I hate the term)? A foodie mummy blogger? A foodie blogger who’s also a mummy? A doggy blogger?  A foodie doggy mummy blogger?  A blogging mummy foodie… er… dogger?

I think I’m kind of ‘none of the above’, really. I’m a blogger who happens to be a mother of two ridiculously fantastic and hilariously funny boys of whom I’m immensely proud. And I’m a foodie. But I’m also a wife, a very occasional journalist (One article this year so far, count it: one.), and a daughter of quite the most spectacularly mental parents you could wish for. I write about food, yes, and I write about kids, but then I write about all sorts of old rubbish besides those two things and an awful lot more besides: greyhounds, chickens, ‘bollocks’ pies, sexual gymnastics

So I decided I wouldn’t pigeonhole myself. I would let my verbal vomit run free.  I would practice ‘no holds barred’ blogging – ‘blogging sans frontieres’, if you would.   And do you know what? My mojo came back.

The return of the missing mojo was also partly due to the lovely chaps at Green & Black’s sending me a mahoosive parcel of chocolate. I mean, whose mojo could remain missing when surrounded by about ten different flavours of the most fabulous chocolate in the world?

Green & Blacks

And seeing as we’ve got the ginormous Cupcake Challenge in the offing, I thought I’d say a few words about chocolate and a few more about ganache:

A few words about chocolate

Chocolate, especially decent chocolate like Green and Black’s needs gentle treatment.  That means that melting it in the microwave is a bit of a no no in my book, as the microwave can create hotspots and burn the chocolate or turn it grainy.  The best way is to place it in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of hot water.  Make sure the water isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl, and when the water starts to bubble, just turn it off and allow the chocolate to melt gently.  I’m a bit anal, but I don’t like to stir until it’s completely melted:

Melt chocolate

Furthermore, there’s no point in bunging in a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (as nice as it is) – you need something good quality with a high cocoa content, and for cooking, good cocoa butter content will make for easier melting.  I tried Green and Black’s Milk Cook’s Chocolate (one of many in my stash) and was really pleased with the result: melted easily? Check. Nice milky taste? Check.  No hint of graininess?  Check.  Furthermore, each little square weighs exactly 5g.  Magic!

Melted Green & Black's

A few more about ganache:

There’s some kind of ridiculous snobbery about ganache.  I mean, just because it’s got a poncy French name it doesn’t mean it has to be poncy itself: it’s just cream and chocolate for goodness’ sake.  If you make it runny you can pour it over things as a glaze, or if you make it stiffer you can make truffles, you can chill it and whip it and then pipe it on things too, but it’s still just chocolate and cream.

Ganache

Anyhoo, so just whisk your cream into your melted chocolate until you get the required consistency (as above), then pour or spread over your cake as required.  For piping, bung it in the fridge, then give it a whisk before filling your piping bag.

Whipped ganache piped onto red velvet cupcake

Et voila. Ganache.  Magnifique, n’est-ce pas?

(Oh and these little beauties are red velvet cupcakes, taken from an awesomely, beautiful new book called ‘Eat Me’ by Xanthe Milton which is due to be published on Mar 4th – and guess who’s getting a review copy?!)

In which the YTPR comes to tea and talks me into being sociable

I am miserable.

I am also baking. 

This is a bad mixture.  At the best of times, I am the most spectacularly messy baker in the history of messy baking so I’m crashing stuff around, I have flour on my nose, every surface in the kitchen is covered in packets, bowls, utensils, half-chopped almonds and blobs of cookie dough… the mixer is going full pelt…

The doorbell rings and I yell at #2 to get the door. 

It’s the YTPR, Craig.  He obviously has the same amazing ability as Mr Lovely for sniffing out baking the moment it goes into the oven.

‘Hello!’, says the Rev, ‘I’m stalking you’.

‘Come in’, says I, ‘…and two emails and one blog comment don’t technically count as stalking.  Cup of tea?’

‘Oh go on, then’, he says, ‘ooh, are you baking?’

We chat and drink tea as I continue to hurl things into the Very Special Anniversary KitchenAid.  He threatens to tell Jen that I moaned that the whisk doesn’t get right to the edges.

He’s noticed, via my blog posts (that’s the way my life works) that I seem a bit down.  We chat some more.  He mentions that several of his female parisioners get together on a Tuesday for a few nibbles and a chat – nothing heavy or religious, just a bit of mutual support and a few cookies…

‘Whoah…’

[Cue sound of needle screeching across record]

‘I’m not very good at socialising’, says I.  It’s true.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, really, as I’m quite friendly – but there’s something about socialising that scares the living crap out of me.  I envisage a group of women all chatting and having fun.  I walk in, and it goes all quiet like that scene in the pub in American Werewolf.  I then continue to compound my awkward situation by uttering a string of increasingly absurd things.  Eventually, they all throw their cookies at me and leave.  Stupid, I know, but I can’t help it.

He reassures me that they’re all really friendly.  His wife goes (I like his wife).  One lady is a real foodie and does catering and makes chutneys and stuff…

‘What, like chutneys and chilli jam and stuff?’

‘Yeah, stuff like that’

‘Okay then, I’ll think about it.  Biscuit?’

‘Oh go on, then.’

Personal blogging: cathartic or a step too far?

Blog the blog

I was interested to read (on Twitter, via my friend Laura) that the legendary blogger, Petite Anglaise, was hanging up her keyboard once and for all.  And although our thoughts turned first to the fact that it will leave a space in the #1 slot of the Top 100 British Mummy Bloggers chart (elbows out, girls!…hey, hang on, I’m down 9 places to #15 – the shame!), her reasons for ‘turning the page’ on blogging were very interesting.

It seems that personal blogging, the very thing that earned her the lucrative book deal and led to a career as a writer, had started to leave an unpleasant taste in her mouth.  If you don’t know the story, she famously got fired by her boss, about whom she was distinctly unpleasant, when her anonymous blog came to light  (she did subsequently win damages against him in court, though).  The story made her quite famous, but once the anonymity had been removed, there was the constant worry that somebody would be upset or offended with what she might say, and with that new-found worry came the inevitable dearth of subject matter.  Interesting, also, that it was THIS INTERVIEW with Liz Jones, a weirdly neurotic, no-holds-barred journo who has managed to alienate half her family and her entire village (including my friend and fellow Disney 7er Exmoor Jane) with her bare-all style of writing, that finally tipped her over the edge.  But in short, she just stopped enjoying it.

I sympathise, I really do.  When I started my blog, way back when we first moved to Ireland, I was obsessive about anonymity and never posted pictures of anyone I knew.  Slowly, I’ve relaxed this rule.  I still try not to post full-face photos of the children, or anyone whose permission I haven’t sought (Mad Uncle Alg is fair game, obviously), and don’t mention people’s full names.  But now we’re settled here, it’s natural that more and more people get to know me, start to read the blog, and my cover has been, I suppose, somewhat blown.  In fact, I’ve even been caught out giving my rather frank views by someone that turned out to be a reader.  Yup, that was awkward.  I’d hate to think I’d ever hurt anyone by what I’d written and I’ll always check first with, say, D-next-door before I mention C, or the kids.

With all this in mind, I’ve had a long hard think about this blog and did decide to go back and remove certain pictures and videos, including our wedding vid.  You can still email me for a link, but I wondered if I was going too far towards making my family live a life online, so I took a step back.

Add this to the fact that I now write for other websites, such as the fabulous HaveALovelyTime.com and you’ll probably find my first name dotted about, if you really look hard.  Funnily enough, when I, and my fellow Disney adventurers travelled to Walt Disney World and met up with our American alter-egos, the ‘Mommy Bloggers’, they were completely dumbfounded by our wish to remain anonymous.  Most published their full names, pictures of themselves and their families and couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t wish to do the same:

‘What, you don’t WANT to be famous?’ 

‘Erm, no, actually, I don’t’.

Englishmum.com is a, I suppose, a bit of an eccentric mix.  There’s family stuff, yes, but the foodie/garden stuff tends to take precendence.  And if I’m honest, I suppose that as the children get older, it’s harder to write honestly without risking embarrassing them in front of their school mates (#1′s been known to comment whilst in his IT lesson).  My readership has risen steadily (thank you!) and though I’m sure I’ve lost and gained different readers as my content has meandered, I am lucky to be blessed with friendly and loyal readers and commenters.  I regard my blog as a little piece of me.  It’s stuffed full of things that I love and I’m always happy that people pop in and enjoy reading my waffle.

And this, I suppose, brings me neatly on to the fact that after much soul-searching, we’ve decided to have Bert rehomed.  This is a HUGE decision for us, but basically he’s been showing some signs of aggression for a while and obviously our children have to be our main priority.  There’s a load of history behind this that I won’t bore you with, but my lovely mate Jen  is still in touch with a lot of people in greyhound rescue, and is going to make sure he goes to a good home somewhere with people that know his history and will really love and care for him well.  I’m sad, but I think it’s the right thing to do.

So for now, I’ll crack on (800 posts, 8553 comments and counting…), I’ll continue to be anonymous-ish, and there’ll be the same old stuff – maybe a bit more food and a bit less about the fellas, and obviously no more Bert, but don’t worry, if anyone humiliates themselves in any way, you’ll be the first to know.

Oh and here’s my rather pathetic review on Mmmmmmcake. ‘It was nice’? C minus for effort there.

Around the world in 80 clicks: Mum bloggers

Shove up, there's tons of room...

So there’s lots of Mum bloggers.  Here at home I’m a Mummy blogger, but to everyone else here in Ireland I’m a Mammy blogger and in the US I suppose I’d be a Mommy blogger.  Titles schmitles, we’re all linked by being some little yoke’s Ma at the end of the day.  So a Mom Blogger in Canada decided that she’d try to link her way around the world via us loons that have offspring and blog about it.  The basic premise is that you talk about five things you love about being a Mum, then pass it on to create a ‘hands across the globe’ type thing of all that’s good about being a Mum.  Irish Mammy tagged K8 the GR8 and K8 tagged me.  I, in turn, will tag someone else and so it will go on, hopefully right back round to Canada.

And yes, I suppose the things I love about being a Mum of kids well into double figures will be completely different than those of a baby mama, but hey, that’s what links us all together: we’re all bonded by the initial puke and insomnia, through to the ‘what?  No, of course you can’t have a tattoo’ stages of parenthood.  We’re all destined to travel the same path.  I love this about parenting.  Whatever stage you’re at and however different you are, there’s always going to be some point when you go ‘oh yeh, been there’.  Here goes then:

  1. Boy hugs.  I’m not completely sure as I don’t have a girl, but I think boy hugs are probably slightly different from girl hugs.  Boy hugs tend to be a bit hard and fierce, a bit ‘half nelson’ rather than soft and snuggly, but still I’m sure they mean as much.  As one’s children get older, you tend to get your affection in different ways.  For instance, I’ll get my hair ruffled while I’m sat at the computer (‘alright Smelly?’) and a child reaches past me to turn his amp on, or I’ll get shown a text that I probably shouldn’t see or told a joke I probably shouldn’t hear.  These little things mean I still belong, and I’m still ‘in the gang’ even though I don’t need to wipe stuff or do up buttons anymore.
     
  2. Mad conversations.  Who else can you have ‘if I was really fat’ conversations with, or chats about what would happen if everyone in the whole country suddenly woke up with Tourette’s (one of my favourites that -although you probably need to have seen ‘Deuce Bigalo, Male Gigolo’ in order to completely understand).  Teenage boys have an unceasing ability to go off on mad random tangents, and dinner time conversations are much richer for it.
     
  3. Pride.  Sometimes it’s the little things that make my heart swell.  Take yesterday when I’d escaped up to my room to do something or other and suddenly heard the most beautiful version of ‘I believe in a thing called love’  twirling whimsically around every step before reaching its tendrils out to me at the top of the stairs.  They might wallop out a mean version of Slipknot’s Psychosocial’ but the odd amazing tune still emanates from those Gibsons or Fender Strats or whatever it is they’re driving.
     
  4. Laughter.  #2 decided to spend some of the vast wads of cash he received from his incredibly generous grandparents (and us, obviously) on some swanky new trainers.  In the shop, he was trying them on and they seemed to fit, but the left toe of one shoe was a bit uncomfortable.  Removing his sock to examine the problem revealed a toe-nail of such epic proportions that Godzilla would have been mighty proud.  Reader, it was like a spade.  I only stopped laughing when I worried I’d maybe wee myself if I carried on.
     
  5. Sofa twister.  Yes, we’ve got lots of places to sit, but when there’s something good on the TV only the sofa dead opposite the telly will do.  That means Hubby and I sharing with two lanky and slightly smelly young men, three cups of tea, one hot chocolate (no, go on, guess), a family pack of Cadbury’s funsize, a large bowl of popcorn, a bag of various flavoured lollipops and a desperate-not-to-be-left-out 90lb greyhound.  It hurts, but it certainly brings a family together.

There you have it.  Now it’s your turn.  What are your favourite (or not so favourite) bits of being a parent? 

And for the purposes of the ‘around the world in 80 clicks’ experiment, I thought I’d spread it around Ireland a bit by asking Susan in Cavan, Isitjustme in Galway, and Natalie who started in South Africa and ended up in Dublin, then for a baby Mama perspective I’ll tag my new discovery, Little Mummy in Edinburgh and for some international flavour, lovely Cam in Richmond.  Here’s the rules from the originator:  

Here’s how it’s going to work:… I’m going to link to a couple of other mom bloggers here in Canada, and to a couple of mom bloggers from other countries around the world, and they’ll write their posts, sharing 5 things that they love (or maybe what they don’t so much love – this playground doesn’t force conformity) about being a mom, and then they’ll tag a few more bloggers from their own country and from other countries, and so on. And you’re more than welcome to join: just write a post of your own (5 things that you love about being a mom) and find someone to link to and tag – someone from your own country, if you like, but definitely someone from another country (Google is a good resource if you don’t know any; google any country name and ‘mom’ in their blog search function) (be sure to let them know that you’ve tagged them!) – and link back here and leave a comment and we’ll add you to the ‘itinerary,’ ….

Speechless. That’s a first

Nominated

Wow.  The long, loooong lists are out for the Irish Blog Awards 2009 and guess what: TWO nominations!  One for Best Food & Drink Blog and one for Best Personal Blog.  I’m dead chuffed.  I’d made up my mind not to pimp myself for nominations this year and didn’t mention it (I had to sit on my hands, and everything), so I’m doubly doubly pleased.  Thank you so much if you voted for me.  My gob is well and truly smacked.

Edit:

AND I’m in rather good company.  Some of my favouritest fellow bloggers are nominated too:

Lovely Medbh at Dante and the Lobster for Best Popculture Blog

Our own clever fellow Cavan-dweller Susan in about fifty seven different categories, including Best Blog from a Journalist, Best Arts and Culture, Best Newcomer and Best Personal Blog

Naughty ol’ Maxi has nominations for Best Newcomer, Best Humour Blog and Best Personal Blog

And don’t get me started on my fellow foodies giving me severe competition in the Best Food/Drink Blog category:

Ruth at Just Add Eggs, Cheeky Manuel at Well Done Fillet, Lar at fantastic wine blog, Sour Grapes , the very clever Lor at Italian Foodies, Spudness, Kieran at Ice Cream Ireland (who also got nominated in the Best Business Blog category along with Deb from Tast.ie), Wee Jen at Little Bird Eats and Deb at Tast.ie

The Beaut girls are up for Best Group Blog, Roy the Taxi is up for Best Specialist Blog along with dad-in-waiting Xbox, and Darragh, Darren, Glitter and Wee Tommy join Maxi and Susan in the Best Newcomer category. 

Oh and half my blogroll are nominated (all deservingly) for Best Personal Blog:

Lubly Paddy, Darragh again, Red Mum, Maxi again, the delicious K8 the Gr8, Con, Manuel again (and he got nominated in Best Humour Blog – darned greedy, I reckon), Darren again, Annie, Terence McDanger (also in Best Humour Blog), Tommy again, Grandad (the leg end legend – also, also in Best Humour Blog), Medbh again, Susan again, FMC, Radge… oh and, er… Me!

If you do one thing today…

So some of you guys would be compelled to read this load of old waffle because you’re friends or family (and you’re secretly obsessed with checking to make sure I don’t mention you in a bad light.  Heh), others are regular commenters and have become, well, cyber-friends, shall we say?  Others still are regular readers and never comment, and yet more happen here by chance via Google for recipes (or, worse, after searching for ‘Mum’s boobs’ or ‘greyhound tips’ [not here, pal!]).

We bloggers web diarists write for many reasons – to keep in touch with home, because we’re frustrated novelists or photo-journalists (or chefs!)…  Actually, I have no idea why I write this.  I just do.  It just is.  I love reading other people’s writing.  I got to the stage of having about 40 blogs in my feeder – there were food blogs and photo blogs and personal blogs, funny blogs, day-to-day diary blogs, whatever, I’ve cut down now before my eyes imploded, but the point is, they’re a little snippet of someone’s life: a sneaky peak into the diary kept under someone’s mattress, if you would.

Occasionally, one piece of writing so far outstrips any other that it twangs the heartstrings, draws out the emotions and makes you take a little breath.  So if you do nothing else today, pop over to K8 the GR8′s blog and read The Secret Fire (just click on the words).  It is by far and away the most stunning, emotive and beautiful piece of writing I’ve read for a long time.  K8 is the offspring of no other than The Hairy One, and blimey I bet he’s proud.  One of K8′s commenters said that ‘God gives special kids to special Mums’ and, although I’m not part of the God squad as you know, I’ll second that emotion.

Oh and while you’re at it, I think it deserves a nomination for Irish Blog Post of the Month.  Don’t you?

The Friday Photo: An award? Pour moi? Shucks

When you become a blogger, you join a diverse and very widely spread family.  I love it.  I suppose I’m a little odd in that I currently subscribe to the feeds of about forty different blogs, but hell, I love to read and have fresh reading material at my fingertips every day!  I’ve got friends all around the globe and people pop by English Towers all the time.  What’s not to love?  Anyhoo, this award is from Jay, who says:

“She encourages new bloggers, promotes the cause of ex-racing greyhound adoption (she is owned by the delightful Bertie) and writes in a pithy and often very funny way about a wide variety of subjects. She has also led me to some great blogs which I now read regularly”

But wait…there’s a catch: if you accept the award, you must:

  1. Pick five blogs that you consider deserve the award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language.
  2. Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.
  3. Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.
  4. The award winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of the Arte y Pico blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

So I’ve tried to go about this from a slightly different angle, in that I’ve gone for people who, in my humble opinion, write really well.  Here goes, then:

For Travel Writing

My first award goes to Hails over at Coffee Helps.  Originally from Northern Ireland, Hails is currently on a one-woman mission to circumnavigate the globe, and the stories of her travels are really informative and often laugh-out-loud funny.  She’s relentlessly optimistic and incredibly versatile (managing not to starve to death even after being pickpocketed of all her worldly cash in Lyon).  A great blog.

For Razor-Sharp Wit

Next up is lubly Baino over in Australia.  Baino describes herself as ‘old enough to know better, too young to care. I am a lazy left-wing, arm chair radical with far too much time on my hands’.  I love her intelligent social commentary, and, frankly, couldn’t live without the Friday Fuckwit.  Enough said.

For Being Inspirational and Aspirational

Tara at DC de facto is who I’d like to be if I wasn’t me.  She spends her days ‘protecting one pound people’ in a special care baby unit, still finds time to give us a slice of DC life, and her photos just sparkle.  Fantastic.

For Foodie Excellence

Well, I couldn’t pick five blogs without including the best foodie.  Pop over to Jen over at Little Bird Eats for droolingly good recipes and great photography (I never could master taking photos of food).  Small of stature, but big of appetite, The Wee One is a real foodoholic.

For Soul-Baring Excellence

Annie, over at The Little Pinch of Salt, is a true web-diarist.  She really does open her heart and her writing is just beautiful.  She’s also a big clever clogs in the film world and her photography is abolutely stunning.  Read it and weep.  Really.

Thanks, Jay! xx

Have your say! How to leave a comment

So I’ve had a few people say to me ‘ooh, I wanted to leave a comment on something you said, but couldn’t work out how to do it’.  So here’s a step by step for all you ‘lurkers’.  Come on now, speak up!

  1. At the end of each ‘post’ (or article) you’ll see the word comments underlined, followed by a number in brackets.  This is the number of people who have already left a comment.
  2. If you hover your mouse over comments, you will see that it prompts you to comment (handy eh?).
  3. Click on comments and you’ll see that all the comments will appear in a new box underneath the original post.
  4. Scroll down to the bottom of the list and there you will see a little form entitled ‘leave a comment’.
  5. So first, fill in your name (doesn’t have to be your real name – you can call yourself whatever you like, see if I care).
  6. In the next box, fill in your email address (don’t worry, it won’t show up on the website).
  7. And lastly, if you have a website address, you can fill it in the last box (mind you, if you’ve got your own website you should bloody well know how to comment by now).
  8. Then, in the last box, feel free to let rip and leave a comment.  When you’re happy with what you’ve written, click on the pink ‘submit comment’ box, and hey presto, you’ve commented.
  9. Do bear in mind that if it’s the first time you’ve commented, your comment won’t appear on the website straight away as it will be sent to me via email for moderation (just to check you’re not a complete psycho – mind you, you’ll fit in quite well if you are).
  10. And that’s it!  Now you can comment whenever you like.  Oh and remember – be nice, I’m sensitive.