It’s been a mad week here at English Towers. The Sainsbury’s #loveyourfreezer campaign has gone live and it’s been really lovely receiving tweets, texts and Facebook messages (and AWFUL screenshots – thanks guys haha) saying ‘ooh, I’ve just seen you on the telly!’. I’m SO proud of this campaign – Sainsbury’s have been amazingly lovely to work with, and there are loads more exciting things coming up.
So this is our last week living as a proper family unit I suppose (although let’s face it, with Mr English’s weird job, we’re only ever a family unit two weeks out of four). Sam’s off to university next week and we’ll miss him loads. This became apparent as we watched the NFL tonight and sniggered, en famille, when the commentator said ‘bush’, and then a bit more when he said something about ‘coming in from behind’.
It’s pretty hectic here at English Towers at the moment. First of all there was the small matter of a slightly broken car (‘Mum, it wasn’t my fault – she stopped REALLY suddenly!’). I thought we’d be cross but honestly? When it came to it we were just relieved he was okay.
My baby boy is 16. How did that happen? I’ll save you the ‘it seems like only yesterday’ speech, mostly because it doesn’t seem like only yesterday, in fact, I can barely remember those first few weeks, to be honest, plus it’s a bit yawny when parents start getting all misty eyed. Suffice to say, we’re the proudest parents, we love him to bits and we’ll move on to the birthday cake of choice.
I’m a huge believer in living life to the full. I’ve written before about how important I think it is to build memories: snapshots we can look back on and treasure. Years from now, we’re not going to remember the handbag we spent our birthday money on, or the fabulous jumper we spent a month’s salary to buy – what we will remember is holding hands watching a perfect sunset or an evening laughing with friends.
So next to get the Big Christmas Gift Guide treatment are your gorgeous teenagers.
First up are the frankly fantastic All in One Company who hand make their fabulous quality onesies in Northumberland. They very kindly asked me for Charlie’s measurements and made him a special onesie with his choice of purple camo polar fleece. He’s absolutely delighted with it because, hey, there’s not another one in the world that’s exactly the same. You can also give All in One Company gift vouchers so that people can design their very own onesie, and they also have an adorable baby section (check it out – the cuteness!)
Colgate’s new ProClinical A1500 electrical toothbrush is a bit more practical but makes a really cool present (and what teenager doesn’t love looking in the mirror let’s face it). It’s a really clever gadget with sensors that automatically adjust the speed and cleaning action of the brush depending on how it’s held in the mouth, and cleans using sonic vibration (32,500 strokes per minute!) to really attack that plaque. It also comes with a spare brush head so more than one person can use it, which is handy. RRP is £169.99 but it’s on a less than half price offer in Boots at the moment!
Scholl have got a really nice ColourPop manicure set which is like the the professional shaping machines you find in salons. It’s got lots of different filing and shaping heads and is rechargeable too. The little polishing head is useful if you’re not wearing nail varnish to give your nails a lovely shine. Nifty. (RRP £24.99)
TONI&GUY have got loads of amazing hairdryers and gadgets out in lovely kits this Christmas including Twist and Crimp (RRP £50) with which apparently – if you’re clever – it’s possible to crimp the underneath of your hair to give it more volume, or go all out 70s and crimp the whole lot, or the Reverse Conical wand for gorgeous casual waves and curls. We love these as they’re all in beautiful packaging and look really special.
The Snowman is a Christmas classic (30 years young!) and Build a Bear have bought out a special toy this Christmas, perfect for younger teens with a soft spot for film. He retails at £18 and is actually really gorgeous – you can buy him online or go into a Build a Bear store for the full stuffing experience! There’ll be a few adults that would rather like him too, we think!
Excuse the weird ear-selfie, but if you’re looking for beautiful, unique jeweller – for teenagers or anyone else, frankly – look no further than lovely Diva & Me who sent me these gorgeous 14k gold opalite earrings which literally change colour depending on the light – anything from the darkest purple to very light, almost translucent violet. The gold setting is a delicate ‘hand crocheted’ design – have a look at it close up on the website, it’s absolutely amazing. I adore them, and I’m really not a jewellery person.
Lifeproof do AMAZING iPad and iPhone cases that make them completely waterproof, shockproof and even mudproof, rendering their gadget pretty much indestructible. Once sealed (it does take a bit of time to fit, plus you have to test it, but all the instructions are in the box and the test kit is enclosed), it is shock proof from two metres with an IP level of 68, whatever that is, and is so waterproof it can actualy be used as an underwater camera. Brilliant.
Stocking filler wise, I’m always keen to keep away from any sort of useless plastic crap that will be broken by Boxing Day, so we concentrate on anything yummy or useful. The boys get through tons of the Lynx shower gel and shampoo, especially the Apollo scent, so these are always a winner. We love all the Cadbury Christmas chocolate, especially the Winter Wonderland bar. Yum! and Kleenex‘s lovely Winter Originals Christmas pocket tissue packs are cute and handy too.
So I guess we’ve now had Lyra for about a month – I think we got her on 26th October. And whereas before we were barely functioning and bleary eyed, things have really settled down. My Disreputable Dad and his wife are thinking of getting a puppy and I think I probably put them off with my tales of piddles on the carpet and early mornings, but honestly, I’m really feeling like we’ve made progress.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that you HAVE to be firm. It upset me when I popped her in her crate so that I could get on with something, but after a while she settles and especially if she’s got a chew or a kong with a few bits of cheese in, she’s mostly happy in there for an hour while I crack on with cleaning or whatever. In the evening, she wanders into the crate and settles down without even being asked.
We’re still working on ear and nose biting. It’s not in anger, more in a licky, excited ‘I LOVE YOU WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN I MISSED YOU! kind of way…
House training is bloody hard, and there’s nothing you can do except watch the pup like a hawk and take her out a lot. She’s a clever girl and very eager to please so she’s starting to pick up on the fact that if she ‘goes’ in the garden, she gets cuddles and treats, but in the house she gets ignored and people get all huffy and stomp around with bowls of water and sponges. We’re three days since our last accident, so we’re definitely getting there!
I’ve started on recall training. I’ve been using a long training lead and calling her back to me, giving her loads of praise and treats, but I’ve been told it’s best to move it on as soon as possible. There’s a small area of woods near where I live and I had a good look round to make sure it was pretty well enclosed. I grabbed a bag full of the smelliest most yummy treats and took a big deep breath and let her off the lead. She had a bit of a wander and came back to me every time I called. The I panicked and put her back on the lead. Still, it’s a start.
But the good stuff, oh the good stuff is magic. Charlie was away at Vans Warped Tour this weekend and Sam was at his girlfriend’s, and she was wonderful company – we wandered through the woods, snuggled on the sofa and even watched X Factor together (I may have used the sentence ‘yes, I just said that to the dog’ in response to someone on Twitter). She’s already learned that if someone’s eating, she’s not allowed to have any (she sits very close to me and grumbles), and when you tell her off (her favourite naughty trick is bringing me a filthy welly and dropping it next to me on the sofa) she goes all silly and bouncy and occasionally answers back. She really is delightful, even when she’s being a massive pain.
Here’s my view from last night. Whippet bum, eh? Delightful.
This week, one of Charlie’s best buddies, James, turns 16. They’ve known each other forever, well, since they started school, and James just feels like one of the family, basically. He had a Halloween party yesterday (his poor Mum) and they also went up to Wembley to watch the Jags vs 49ers American football game too (which was amazing, apparently – ‘apart from the streaker. Legend’).
I promised to make him a double chocolate cheesecake (we class the chocolate in the digestives as the second chocolate – probably slightly tenuous, but hey), and even though it’s not officially his birthday yet, we let him blow out the candle. We’re good like that.
Double Chocolate Cheesecake
100g salted butter
300g pack of dark chocolate digestives
500g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
200ml whipping cream
200g good quality dark chocolate
So warm the butter in a small saucepan until it’s just melted and in the meantime whizz up the digestives, or if you don’t have a processor, just put them in a plastic bag and whack them with a rolling pin. Stir the butter into the biscuits then press into the bottom of a springform tin (you’ll never get the bugger out otherwise) and leave to cool.
Now, melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of water (don’t let the bowl touch the water), turning the pan off once the water boils. Put the cream cheese in a bowl, beat it until smooth then beat in the icing sugar.
Now, and this is important, you must wait for the chocolate to cool back to room temperature. Wait until it feels the same temperature as your finger when you dip it in. While you’re waiting, whip the cream.
Add the cooled chocolate to the cream cheese and icing sugar. Stir it in until the colour is uniform, then fold in the cream gently with a metal spoon so you don’t lose all the air you’ve incorporated. Smooth the mixture over the prepared base.
And that’s it. Just let it set in the fridge. I decorated mine with a bit of melted chocolate (excuse the rubbish photo – there was a bit of hilarity), but you can add whatever topping you like: grated chocolate, maltesers, raspberries, even a cheeky layer of chocolate ganache.
Happy birthday James. Sweet 16! xx
He’s a bit of a wag is The Dude. Not in a bad way. Oh no, I’m far too scary a parent to allow anything like that. I do, however, feel that we shouldn’t crush every bit of individuality and personality out of our children. I want my children to be respectful, kind and considerate, but we do have a bit of a giggle at home, and sometimes there’s a bit of banter and the odd swear, but that’s fine by me too. On the left, I present his recent protest at being asked to eat lettuce. He hates lettuce.
Since returning to school after half term, Charlie’s been on ‘lockdown’. This is basically because this particular school moves the kids up into their new school years after the May half term. So Chas is now in year 11. This year is special because it’s their GCSE year. They wear a different coloured shirt and tie and are allowed more freedom, including the right to leave the school at lunchtime. Unfortunately, since the now infamous ‘tie shredding incident‘, his punishment, along with his friends, was to have this freedom rescinded for two whole weeks. It’s actually a pretty great punishment. Allow the whole of the school year to leave the premises at lunchtime, leaving the ‘naughty’ ones behind to earn their freedom again? I get that. I totally do.
Trouble is, the policing of this ‘lockdown’ is all wrong. On the first day he came back looking less than happy. I assumed it was the enforced loss of freedom and didn’t say too much. Actions have consequences, etc and I fully support the school’s right to give punishment where it’s due. On the second day, I actually asked what was up, and it turned out that the lockdown is being enforced by them having to report to their house office EVERY TEN MINUTES. Yup, you read that right. Wherever they are and whatever they’re doing, they have to walk all the way back to a specific office to report every ten minutes.
This is all wrong. Removing a privilege if they misbehave? Totally fine. Removing their freedom and their right to a break at lunchtime, when they’re studying hard for GCSEs and working hard in class? Wrong. Ten minutes is not even enough time to queue up in the canteen and eat. Had he eaten? No. I was fuming.
I sent one of my emails. I kept it firm. I expect Charlie to be allowed a proper break to go eat, drink, read a book, revise, muck about, play football… whatever. Just as you, as a teacher, are allowed one.
The reply was a bit sarky: ‘if Charlie’s that keen on revising, he can always go to the library, where the staff there will record his presence’. Oh I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that one bit.
My reply, I feel, was firm but fair: ‘it’s not about revision. It’s about giving the kid a break, not making him perform like a trained chimp for the entire lunch period.’
That’s me off the school Christmas list, then.
I know I’m always complaining about being old but blimey, my youngest was 15 yesterday. The Dude is mahoosive and has turned into a handsome, kind and funny teenager who is American Football mad and a bit of a gym obsessive. We’re all immensely proud of him.
As is the tradition at English Towers, he’s been allowed to choose the birthday cakeage. Usually this means they choose the most difficult thing they possibly can and today is no exception. Flicking through my cakey Pinterest pins, the birthday boy opted for a bloody enormous triple layer chocolate mousse cake, but without the white chocolate layer. A mousse cake should be soft and melty, so I decided on a lovely soft flourless chocolate cake as a base layer, then topped with a dark chocolate mousse and then a milk chocolate one. Simples.
One word of warning: sometimes mousse takes a while to set. If you need this cake in the evening, make it in the morning or the night before. If desperation sets in, a blast in the freezer for a half hour will help it along. As you can see from mine, the top layer wasn’t quite set and started to collapse – by the time we’d lit the candles, the Maltesers were sliding down the side of the cake. No matter, we just scoffed it really quick.
For the flourless chocolate cake
This is an easy cake to make and makes a great pudding served with whipped cream. It WILL sink in the middle, but when topped with the mousses of course this doesn’t matter.
As I was trying to build up height I used a smallish (8”) high sided loose-bottomed tin, with the sides lined with cut-to-fit silicone baking sheet. Remember you’re going to add the mousse layers so line the sides quite high. Preheat the oven to 160/gas 3.
125g dark chocolate
3 large free range eggs, separated
125g soft brown sugar
So melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over some hot water. As soon as the water starts to bubble, turn it off and let the butter and chocolate melt gently together.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until they’re really firm.
When the butter and chocolate are melted, stir in the brown sugar, the vanilla extract and the egg yolks, then gently fold in the whisked egg whites.
Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for about half an hour or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Leave to cool.
Just thought I’d slip in a pic of my new scales here – I love them. You can find them on Amazon – they’re called Epicurean by Ozeri. Rather lush aren’t they?
For the mousse layers
You only need a thin (ish) layer of mousse. I made my first layer far too thick, so I’ve halved the quantities here.
125ml double cream
150g dark chocolate
2 eggs, separated
So just pop the double cream in a saucepan and break in the chocolate. Put it on a low heat and as soon as the cream is warm enough to melt the chocolate, turn the heat off, continuing to stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Leave to cool a little while you whisk the egg whites. Do check that the cream/chocolate mixture is cool enough (it needs to be lukewarm otherwise it will scramble the eggs) before mixing in the egg yolk.
Then just fold in the whites, again take your time and wait until everything is a uniform colour. Pour the mousse on top of the chocolate cake layer and return to the fridge.
When this layer is set, make another batch of mousse with milk chocolate. Pour VERY gently over the first mousse and allow to set.
To serve, you need to be VERY careful – firstly make sure it’s properly set (ahem) and then balance it on something solid and slowly push the tin down. Decorate if you want, or just ram it into your face.
Happy birthday, Chas. We love you loads xx
Yesterday was my Disreputable Dad’s wedding. It started badly, with me still running around covered in icing an hour before we were supposed to leave (I stupidly offered to make them cupcake towers) and Dad arriving to pick the boys up for the church with not one, but both boys still in their pants.
In the ensuing panic, people were jabbed with buttonhole pins, ties were tied and retied, tempers were lost, handkerchiefs were jammed into suit pockets willy nilly and everyone piled into the car still pink faced and sweary. Luckily, by the time we all got to the church, we’d calmed down a bit.
I was really pleased with my dress from Monsoon. AND after a bit of faffing, I went with the red lipstick in the end (this decision was not helped by my sons who, when I tried it on, cried with laughter), but actually I felt quite glamorous, although I’m not sure how people wear lipstick every day. It’s kind of like walking around knowing you’ve got jam spread around your lips and you’re not allowed to lick it off. Here’s a little car selfie:
The service was very nice. My niece wasn’t feeling well so I had to step in and do a reading (my reading included the term ‘brothers and sisters’ – I was tempted to do it in an evangelical style: BRUTHAS AND SISTAS!’, but decided against it) and after a small discussion about who had the ring, the Best Man did his duties admirably, even after still being up at midnight the night before swearing over his speech!
There was just a small party in the evening. My sons monopolised the dance floor with some very odd co-ordinated dancing (even Sam’s poor girlfriend was enlisted), and later, there was a resurrection of the ‘cupcake challenge’, first seen at our very own wedding blessing a few years ago.
He’s got his mother’s gob, bless him:
Aw I had such a fab day yesterday. Despite their Dad’s absence the brevren rallied well – no cards (‘what, you have to buy presents AND cards?’) but they did get me a voucher for a lovely Clarins facial – will look forward to that. Mahoosive brownie points go to Mr English for the gift of THIS little beauty:
Isn’t it beautiful? After pressies it was off to The Akeman in Tring, Hertfordshire which is really lovely: all squishy leather, dark wood and roaring fires. The kitchen area is open so you can see the chefs at work, and the staff were so friendly. I had lunch with my gorgeous friend Glam C . We had Prosecco to celebrate, plus a delicious Mediterranean salad with Halloumi, roasted vegetables, couscous and chickpeas. Nomnomnom. The grin on my face says it all, I feel (and look, there’s The Claw – well, I couldn’t leave it at home on my birthday now, could I?):
The reason for the salad (I know, right? Not like me at all) was our evening trip to a local pizza place. We were accompanied by The Prof’s new girlfriend, who I’m proud to say is utterly lovely – very sweet and enormously good fun – we cackled like loons and, after we’d dropped her off, The Dude was heard to utter ‘wow, there is NOTHING wrong with her’. High praise indeed. However, it was only as we were getting out of the car that I realised I’d forgotten the cake. Ah well. We’ll scoff it today: think of it as unbirthday cake.
Thank you for all your birthday wishes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. What a perfect day.
One of my best buddies, the lovely Tara, runs an online photo gallery every week over at Sticky Fingers. People from all over the world enter photos into the gallery every week to a specific theme. This week, the theme is ‘boys’. Well, I had to, didn’t I?
They make me laugh until I cry (at a recent parents’ evening, one of Charlie’s teachers said: ‘I love him. I could strangle him occasionally, but I love him’), give fabulous hugs, eat vast amounts of food, use vast amounts of hot water, send me tweets that say ‘you are a poo’, make me worry about them constantly (you have to let them go…) and always, always make me proud. They’re kind, thoughtful, frustrating, messy, always late (Sam!), weirdly nocturnal but always fabulous.
Ladies and gentlespoons, I give you: my boys (with their long-suffering Dad):
During a recent shopping trip to find him a suit for my Disreputable Dad’s upcoming wedding (the girl in the shop was rather taken with my handsome boy and I was laughing as she practically climbed into the changing room with him), we were discussing parents’ evening, which is fast approaching. And while he’s doing well at school, I’m under no illusion that my youngest enormous offspring is any sort of an angel. I did ask him, somewhat nervously, what I was to expect at parents’ evening.
He’s obviously been giving it considerable thought: ‘well I’m going to skip the RE teacher completely, then start you with my biology teacher, Miss C, who hates us all… then I’m going to make sure the appointments are in the order of how well I’m doing and ending at my drama teacher Mr G, who is a legend and who absolutely loves me. By the time he’s finished, you’ll waft out of the door and won’t even remember the others.
Then I thought we could go to Tesco and buy you some wine’.
Ahhhh golden syrup. Is there a nicer smell? I wondered aloud recently (well, on Instagram) why someone had never created a perfume based on the sweet scent of it. I mean, come on! Someone’s already done a gin perfume..
Talking of gin, alcohol free January is miserable. Last year, I said never again, and yet this year here I am nursing a sad, lukewarm glass of squash every night, instead of a sparklingly refreshing glass of mother’s ruin. It’s no life, dearest reader.
Anyhoo, to keep me company on my alcohol free quest, Charlie, the Death Wish Dude has vowed to give up crap. As long as I stay off the gin, he’s promised to stay off the crisps and chocolate. A noble deed, but one which leaves him sadly lacking in snackage when he gets home from school hungry enough to look at the Ninja Cat of Death in a whole new light. So I decided to make him some healthy-ish snackage until he’s back on the Frazzles. Flapjack: gorgeous golden syrupy, crispy on the outside, soft in the middle nutty flapjack…
Nutty Golden Syrup Flapjack
So this is another one of those recipes that, as long as you stick to the basic proportions, you can fiddle with endlessly… Add nuts, sultanas, dried cranberries, chocolate chips… whatever you fancy. Don’t like golden syrup (what’s WRONG with you?) use honey. Like it plain? Covered in chocolate? That’s fine too.
For the basic recipe, you’ll need:
115g brown sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup
400g rolled oats
Melt the butter, brown sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan on a low heat until it’s all runny and combined, then take it off the heat and stir in the oats. And that’s it. This is the time to add your extras: dried fruit/nuts/chocolate chips/whatever. I used a large handful of almonds, roughly chopped, but whatever you use, a good handful will probably be enough.
Now press the mixture into a buttered cake tin and bake at gas 4/gas 180 and bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool completely before removing from the tin or it’ll fall apart. Fab for lunchboxes, rushed breakfasts and after school snackage.
Mind you, I’m tempted just to buy him a six pack of Walker’s crisps and a Double Decker and be done with it. Gin o’clock, you say?