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The birthday with NO CAKE!

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:

My birthday pressie

My birthday pressie

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?):

Birthday Prosecco

Birthday Prosecco

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.

CHRISTMAS SMELLIES AND GIFTS


This is Nessie thank you cardThank you cards from This is Nessie

Nessie Maclay has a scrummy website with all her lovely designs on really nice quality cards.  My favourites are the personalised Christmas ‘thank you’ cards.  They cost £7.50 per pack of ten and there is plenty of room to write on the front of the cards and the reverse is blank so there is loads of space for your tiddlers (or bigguns) to write or draw pictures. Gorgeous.  I’m also tempted by the personalised correspondence cards at £60 for 100.

Have a Gander's baubles reindeer tea towelLovely Fiona at  ‘Have a Gander’  designs tea towels and cards and has two adorable Christmas designs out at the moment.  They are 100% cotton, hand-drawn in Kent and printed in England.   Have a gander (see what I did there?) at their products online at www.haveagander.biz

Persil Warm SpiceNot a gift, but rush out and buy Persil’s Warm Spice washing up liquid – it has the gorgeous Christmassy scents of cinnamon, clove and a dash of warm orange.  If you’re stuck at the sink you might as well enjoy the smell!

Jardins D'Eden candleJardins D’Eden have created a gorgeous limited edition Christmas candle with sweet orange, cinnamon and clove oil and made with 100% natural wax and pure essential oils.  Delicious and with the added benefits of aromatherapy too.  They were really lovely and sent me one of these and the scent has been wafting through English Towers every evening making us feel really Christmassy!  While you’re there, check out their other products too – absolutely lush.

NYRMENFWASH_largeFor the man in your life, why not try the lovely Neals Yard grooming products from Big Green Smile.  My boys both adored this face wash which is fabulously good quality and smells gorgeous too.

 

For those readers who live in Australia there’s a big selection of Toys at Big W.  If you’re shopping for little ones why not avoid the mall altogether? 

The Christmas Countdown: BFFs – beautiful gifts for the girls!

 

Harrods Daylesford Indulgence Hamper

This beautiful hatbox is, admittedly, an expensive option, but it’s packed with loads of luxe goodies and would be a perfect present to receive from, say, your best friend or your husband.  There’s a romantic, heart theme running through the contents, including little shortbread hearts and chocolates, and a little gold heart on a ribbon too.  The toiletries are fabulously scented and really good quality and the candle, although quite small, packs a powerful punch and smells delicious.  There are also two bottles of rosé in the hatbox: an Italian frizzante and a very nice French from Daylesford’s own vineyards. £150 plus delivery at www.harrods.com.  Of course if you want non alcoholic food hampers, there are plenty of those too.

Verdict: luxe, but pricey

Yankee Candles have brought out this gorgeous woven basket wrapped in a lovely red ribbon, and filled with one of their scrummy jar candles, three of the small ‘Samplers’ votives and a glass hurricane votive holder, all in delicious, spicy Sparkling Cinnamon scent.  £27.99 from www.yankeecandle.co.uk or call 0845 050 2623 for your local stockist.

Verdict: gorgeous, and Yankee Candles just mean Christmas to me.

Bouton stacker rings. Designed by Adrian Buckley – these beauties are £65 each and meant to be worn stacked (but obviously depending on budget, they’re beautiful on their own too).  On the website you can click on different ring designs to see how they looked stacked together too. Clever.

Verdict: perfect Christmas sparkle, and collectible too.

The Seagate External Drive is a fab gift for the techy girl in your life.  I’m not techy at all, but I can’t live without mine now.  It’s a little box about the size of a mobile phone (well, maybe a tiny bit bigger, but I can’t think of anything the right size), and you just plug it in to one of your USB ports with a wire and it basically becomes another drive on your computer.  Click control panel > system and security<backup and restore (Windows) and you can pick exactly what you want backed up, and even how often.  I’m impressed.  And now I can sleep easy at night knowing I won’t lose those precious photos, or all my stuff for my tax return either.  They do a Mac version and difference sizes too.  It’s priced at £54.20 and comes in a choice of colour – the pinky red is lovely.

Verdict: perfect for music, photos and other precious stuff you don’t want to lose.

Gifts for Europe do these lovely gift boxes that you can personalise with different wine choices. This is a great site if you have friends in different places as you can order from anywhere in the world for delivery anywhere in Europe.  We tried the white wine and snack collection with a rather fabulous bottle of Bordeaux (you can choose other wines as well), lots of lovely little crispy snacks, cheesy biscuits and delicious macaroons too.

Verdict: scrummy and perfect for ex-pats or those with loved ones abroad

 

Arran Aromatics have the most delectable selection of Christmassy candles and reed diffusers. My favourite candle by far is the absolutely gorgeous Mandarin and Petitgrain which leaves the whole house smelling delicious and lasts for hours.

Verdict: A gorgeous gift for someone special

Review: Boo and Boy prints

There’s nothing better than receiving a present that really makes you smile – a present that you know someone saw and thought ‘wow, that would be perfect’.  And so, I was pretty delighted to receive this:

It’s ME!  I adore it, it looks amazing in my kitchen and it makes me smile every time I look at it, which is, let’s face it, the very best thing about any present.  Mr and Mrs B helped me choose the very best colour frame to complement my kitchen and set off the print and I think we all did a darned good job.  You don’t have to have your personalised prints framed, of course, but there are so many lovely frames to choose from it seems a shame not to.

Boo & Boy is a gorgeous new website from the fabulous duo that is Mrs B&B (aka Laura, fellow blogger and one of my very best friends), and Mr B&B, aka Andy, designer of THIS VERY BLOG!  So you know that everything they do is going to be darned fantastic, creative and beautiful (not that I’m biased in any way)

Next on my wish list is the very scrummy ‘my only vice print, which, I’m thinking should say ‘cake… cheese… red wine… sunshine and… more cake’

Do yourself (and all your friends and family) a huge favour and bag some gorgeous prints for everyone.  There is nothing better, I can vouch, than signing for a beautiful, brown-paper wrapped parcel and seeing those googly Boo&Boy eyes peeking at you from one corner…

Oh wait, there is one thing better:  a special code for English Mum readers!  Just add the code: B&B/EM/10/2012 at the checkout stage and you’ll get 10% off every order plus FREE Shipping, until 31st December 2012.    Just in time to buy all your Christmas presents to show all your family and friends how much you care.  Oh, you’re welcome.

Review: grown up Disney! The beautiful Imagination Winter range

 

So straight on with the Christmas Countdown, then… this time I’ve got some gorgeous, and distinctly grown-up gifts from Disney.  The Imagination Winter range is a scrummy set of products to scent your home.  And, even though I’m the biggest Disney fan EVER, there’s not a Mickey in sight.  The candles and spray contain festive cinnamon bark, nutmeg and clove and I love that they should ‘transport you to a winter wonderland of enchanted pine forests lying under a blanket of snow ‘.  Count me in!

And the verdict?  Gorgeous.  Even with the spices, the scent is not at all cloying or ‘Christmas puddingy’ – I’ve had the candle burning in the evenings for the last couple of nights and the fragrance is actually really light – almost herbal… I think the hint of orange helps here.  The packaging is beautiful and would make a really lovely pressie, not just for a Disney fan either!

The range consists of mini candles (£10), a large candle in a glass (£12) and a scented room spray (£8).  All are available from Disney Stores and via www.disneystore.co.uk

 

Apricot, pear and apple chilli chutney

Christmas is THE time for chutney. Quite apart from the turkey leftovers, there’s all that ham, and tons of lovely cheese – a tangy chutney accompaniment is a must.

This chutney is loosely based on the cranberry and apple chutney in Nigella Christmas, but inspired by my very clever friend Katie, from Feeding Boys, who made a lovely autumnal pear chutney, I decided to pop in some pears and dried apricots as well.  Oh, and because I love a bit of spice, I’ve added a fresh red chilli too.  Leave it out if you’re not keen, or maybe deseed and just add the flesh.

A few tips:

  • Make sure you cut the apples and pears into quite small pieces.  My apples were frozen and I hadn’t chopped them that small, so quite a few large chunks remained.  Not the end of the world, admittedly, but a bit annoying.
  • If you don’t like something, substitute something else.  Like cranberries?  Then just do half the amount of sultanas and do the other 125g in cranberries.  Don’t like dried apricots?  Add some different dried fruit.
  • No pears?  Try quinces… or even veg – courgettes or butternut squash work well.
  • Feel free to double up if you’re making presents or whatever.  This recipe makes about a litre of chutney and filled two and a bit small kilners.

You will need:

1 large onion, chopped

350g apples, peeled and chopped into small chunks

250g pears, peeled and chopped into small chunks

150g dried apricots, chopped into small dice

250g sultanas

350ml bottle of cider vinegar

1 red chilli, chopped very finely

200g brown sugar

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

Bung everything into a big saucepan and stir while you bring it to the boil (see what I mean about the apple pieces?):

Once it’s boiled, turn it down to a simmer and allow to cook for 45 minutes until thick and golden brown, stirring occasionally.

Pour into sterilised jars.  Click here for a link to my buddy Mammy’s excellent advice on sterilising jars.

And as this chutney makes a perfect thrifty Christmas pressie, I’ve added it to Violet Posy’s wonderful Thrifty Christmas blog. Pop over to get more thrifty inspiration and craft ideas.


Everybody needs a giant inflatable ladybird in their lives…

I am a very lucky blogger.  Not many days go by when I don’t have a completely confused courier ringing me and trying to work out how on earth to get his van across the lough without getting his feet wet (don’t you just love satnav?).

This week, I received an enormous, furry inflatable ladybird from Ikea:

Excuse the poor photo, but I took it on my laptop to show my Twitter friends.  It caused much hilarity, both here (where de brevren did unspeakable things to the poor creature) and on Twitter, where my favourite suggestion was a recreation of the ‘near, far away’ sketch from Father Ted using ladybirds.  Have a look at Ikea’s PlayReport and check out more of their toys on their Facebook page too.

Other random but nontheless wonderful gifts this month have included

Some very tasty Seriously Good Gordon Ramsay for Comic Relief sauces (the Cherry Tomato and Balsamic one is especially gorgeous):

A beautiful White Company bathroom [edit: of course I mean bathROBE - damn these sausage fingers], embroidered in pink with ‘English Mum’, from the lovely people at Bold (they sent me washing powder too, bless ‘em) as part of their ‘Bold Hugs’ campaing…

Loads of Duracell Ultra Power batteries and a game of Operation, which caused family arguments and accusations of cheating on a scale never seen, even at the warzone that is English Towers, from the lovely people at Duracell.

An Xbox Kinect, plus Kinect Sports, Dance Central and Kinectimals.  This has completely taken over our lives and not a day goes past without our beautiful Kinectimal Maltese Tiger getting a sneaky head ruffle from someone in the house.

A fabulous Nokia N8 (which actually hasn’t arrived yet – that was one of the couriers that didn’t work out the lough puzzle).

Different packs of amazing Marriage’s Organic Flour (I love the Organic Light Brown flour) – check out Marriage’s the Master Millers.

Lots of gorgeous Galaxy chocolate and a copy of Audrey Niffenegger’s wonderfully atmospheric book ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ so that I could grab a bit of ‘me time’ during the madness that was Christmas.

A heowge box of Green and Black’s miniatures. Nomnomnom.

And finally, lots and lots of lovely jellies from The Natural Confectionary Company.  I’m a big fan of their cute videos as well.  This is my fave:

Motorways, Xbox magnificence and bird murder

It’s been a funny old Christmas.  We thought it would never get started as due to awful weather conditions both here and in the UK, English Dad looked as though he’d never get over here to celebrate Christmas with us.  Endless delays and cancellations saw him backwards and forwards to the airport, before finally he got re-booked on a flight due to come in on Christmas Eve Eve evening (if you get my drift).  We were also hampered by frozen pipes.  Still, the teenagers embraced the ‘not having to wash’ lifestyle and I performed weird spit-washes in two inches of kettle water.

The snow was really coming down, but I roped the Death Wish Child into coming with me and we set off a little gingerly for Dublin Airport.  The highlight of the trip occurred just as we were getting off the motorway at the airport turnoff.  There was about a foot of fresh snow and we exited onto the sliproad sideways.  While I screamed, clutching the steering wheel for dear life (hysteria is my middle name), the DWC squealed with delight: ‘Awesome Mum!  You’re drifting! It’s like Gran Turismo!’

Arriving traumatised at the airport, I persuaded my passengers that there was no way I wanted a repeat of GT5 and would be returning to Cavan via the M50 and then via the M3.  BIG mistake.  Big, huge mistake.  We sat, as more snow fluttered down, in solid traffic.

In total, our trip took us over five hours.  In the meantime, my lovingly prepared ham in coca cola had boiled dry, but in a spectacular culinary rescue mission, the Mad Professor had smelt the smoke and topped up the liquid.  Impressive.

Christmas morning, we were greeted by a hungry pheasant hoovering up the food we’d left out for the birds.  It was somewhat tainted by the fact that the Ninja Cat of Death murdered one of the little Wagtails that had come along for a snack.  The poor little thing’s body laid frozen and bloody as all the other birds continued to stuff their faces, leading English Dad to ponder that it must be the equivalent of eating in The Ivy with a large cadaver draped across the table.

Continuing on the theme of bird murder, our turkey turned out really well:

I got some fab pressies: lots of smellies, some gorgeous Gucci perfume, Nigella Kitchen and an awesome Dualit hand blender.  De brevren were lucky enough to have been sent an Xbox Kinect and some games and I discovered (to my children’s disgust) that I’m REALLY good at ‘QB in motion’ – a kind of American football game on Kinect Game Party in Motion.  The Xbox Harry Potter Deathly Hallows game is awesome as well (it’s got bits you can play with the Kinect).  We spent the afternoon playing Xbox International Cricket and creating our teams entirely with names starting with Fat.  Childish, yes, but very funny.  Fatkinson scored a century, if you’re interested.

How about you, then?  Good Christmas?

Gifts for magnificent mums and delectable dads. The Christmas Countdown Gift Guide

FOR THE MUMS

All mothers love to receive flowers from their children. Surprise yours with one of many arrangements of vibrant and beautiful flowers delivered right to her door.  Choose flowers for any occasion, or just to let her know that you love her.  Check out www.serenataflowers.com or if your mum has a sweet tooth, maybe www.serenatachocolates.com.

Red Magazine is my favouritest magazine ever.  The best food, the best fashion and the nicest editor (follow her on Twitter at @SamatRedMag).  If you subscribe now, you can get 6 issues for just £9.99 plus a really nice Elemis freebie.  Grab it for yourself AND buy your Mum a subscription!

Red has a fabulous new website too! Check it out at redonline.co.uk – there’s beauty, recipes, fashion, news and tons more – it’s like a whole other magazine on the web:

All for Eve is a great beauty brand where  100% of net profits are donated to the Eve Appeal that funds research into gynaecological cancers.  There is currently a capsule collection of 8 fantastic products (the awesome red lipstick was created by make up artist Daniel Sandler).  Great quality, and what a fab cause too.  Available in loads of stores (including Harrods dahling).  Check online for stockists.

Carol Savage, the Dragon’s Den ‘alumnus” and founder of recipe website MyDish.co.uk has launched lovely personalised  recipe calendars for Christmas this year.  You can either source and upload a favourite recipe or alternatively add your own recipes and photos:

The calendar costs £15.00 and £5.00 from every calendar donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Brown and Harris have some beautiful and very on-trend old-fashioned English toiletries which would make lovely gifts.  They have some gorgeous gift-sets as well as individual products – I keep an enormous tube of the lavender conditioning hand and nail cream on my desk which smells absolutely delicious (lavender’s not just for grannies you know!).  The perfumed wardrobe and drawer sachets are gorgeously vintage and make really sweet stocking fillers too.   Available online from their website, and from Amazon, plus other stockists.

Talking of smellies, if your mum is a lover of scented candles (aren’t we all?) look no further than the gorgeously scented Spa Paradisa candles.  The packaging is wonderfully retro and I thought the scents were utterly delicious.  Available at next.co.uk and Debenhams too.

And let’s not forget mums to be in our little line up.  I can heartily recommend the delightfully girly Mum to Be Pamper Me gift set, which includes bath soak, tummy cream and a vanilla scented candle:

They also do a really lovely Little Me Organics lavender-scented gift set for mum and baby.  Lovely new mum Denise Van Outen is a big fan of the range.

Last but not least, if you can count booze as stocking fillers, I’d heartily recommend Martini’s range of festive fizz:

MARTINI Asti DOCG (7.5% ABV, £6.28 at Tesco).  This is the original Asti taste that I remember from many Christmases past, and although a tad sweet for some palates, it makes for a lovely cocktail when mixed with plenty of fresh lime (a tip I learned from the lovely Nigella).

MARTINI Prosecco DOC (11.5% ABV).  Prosecco is well trendy this Christmas and this one, with hints of apple and peach, is gorgeous.

MARTINI Cuvée Speciale Rosé (8% ABV).  I love  rosé – not only because of the colour!  This is the perfect party wine – and has only 75 kcal for a 125ml serving!

The Prosecco and Rose is £6.00 in Asda on spesh at the moment.

Chin chin!

FOR THE DADS

First of all, I must recommend 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die by the fabulous Adrian Tierney-Jones, hubby of my lovely friend Exmoor Jane.  Available from Amazon priced £10.92, it’s a must-purchase for every beer-loving dad.

Still on the subject of beer, here are two fine beers born out of a collaboration between Rick Stein and Sharp’s Brewery.  Chalky’s Bark has subtle hints of ginger, a perfect match for spicy food, whilst Chalky’s Bite has notes of fennel which goes great with any seafood. If your dad’s a real foodie, you’ll seriously be in his good books. Chalky’s Bark & Chalky’s Bite are both available in cases of 12 bottles at £24, from Majestic stores  or www.sharpsbrewery.co.uk

No Dad’s stocking should be complete without this fabulous tin of yummy Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls  mint balls.  The newly designed tin costs just £3.27 and with 100% natural ingredients, these famous mint balls are suitable for vegetarians, vegans and are gluten-free too.  http://www.uncle-joes.com

The brand new Black and Decker 14.4v Autoselect® Lithium Ion Hammer Drill is out now(oh come on, you know every Dad secretly wants a drill even if they don’t ever use one).

Radox have got some fabulous gift sets out at the  moment.   Available nationwide from Boots and all good chemists – one of these sets would make a great stocking stuffer for any dad.

If you’re going to go the trad route and give socks (the hubby insists on it every  year), Jeep have got some really trendy ones.  We (well, not me) tried out the Luxury Terrain ones, and they’re a cut above your normal stocking filler.  Available at the usual outlets priced £7.99.

This gorgeous Mont Blanc Special Edition John Lennon pen is a snip at £585.00 (ahaha), but there are pens for every budget that would make a great pressie for any office-bound brother or crossword-loving dad.  Check out thepenshop.co.uk for loads of choice.  There are tons of Filofaxes in every colour too.

The Powermat is an awesome pressie if your man has an iPhone 3 or 4.  We tried it out and it’s really good.  Once fitted with the special case, you can just pop the phone straight onto the mat and it charges it straight away.  It works for Blackberries/DSi/PSPs and loads more as well.  A word of warning though, if you’ve got a ‘normal’ phone (I’ve got a Nokia 5800), you can’t use it.  There are some extra attachments, but they’re mostly USB based.

Terrific gifts for teenagers. The Christmas Countdown Gift Guide

FOR THE BOYS

Spy Games, Europe’s leading espionage themed events company, has this AMAZING  Spy Academy Gift Experience which is perfect for anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming the next James Bond (and let’s face it – who hasn’t?).  This press release got de brevren hanging over my shoulder checking out the pics.  Not only do you get to be trained to become an agent and perform a 3 hour spy operation, but you also get to receive training in essential spy equipment, like bugs and hidden cameras, and *cue the sound of teenagers fainting* you receive training on  how to use a pistol and get to fire machine guns!! More info from: www.spy-games.com.  Tel:  +44 (0)845 1303 007

Gadget Glamour have got a great range of iPad and iPhone skins.  They look amazing and make great stocking fillers.  The skins cost from £10.00.  Check out www.gadgetglamour.co.uk for more info.

Roadkill Toys are an absolutely awesome teenage twist on the soft toy and will certainly be taking pride of place in stockings at English Towers this year (shhh don’t tell).  There are three toys; Twitch the Racoon, Grind the Rabbit and Splodge the Hedgehog, which literally look like they’ve been squished – plush guts and all!  Each comes in its very own body bag and with an identity tag.  £25.00.  Check out www.roadkilltoys.com

Nike’s new CR Mercurial Vapor SuperFly II boot has been launched just in time for Christmas.  Looking spectacular  in a wrap-around updated version of the Nike Safari print first introduced on the Air Safari running shoe in 1987, and bearing the signature of none other than Christiano Ronaldo, each pair also comes with a special code to unlock training tips on the website.  Stocked exclusively in Ireland at Lifestyle Sports.  Wowzers.

My teens are (secretly) obsessed with grooming products and this Bulldog EcoSystem Moisturiser not only looks funky, but is fair trade too.  To buy this and loads more fabulous eco/organic/natural/fairtrade type skin and hair care products, visit biggreensmile.com.  It smells fabulous (and suitably manly) too.

Don’t forget that the amazing X Box Kinect is now out.  Earlier this year we travelled to Gamescom 2010 in Cologne to try out the system and some of the games.  Our favourites?  Kinectimals (for the cute animals – and yes, even my boys liked it!), Kinect Sports and the fabulous Dance Central.

Check out MoreTvicar for amazing retro T shirts (oh and if you’ve got teeny tinies, check out the ‘love’ and ‘hate’ baby mittens as well.  Beyond cute!

If, like me, you often have ‘extras’ staying overnight, often at short notice, this is a godsend.   The Aerobed Active fully inflates in less than 60 seconds (it’s got a detachable pump that can also be used cordless or from a vehicle), can be used outside and is tested to 295kg which should withstand even the most ridiculous teenage wrestling shenanigans.  Sadly the one we tried had an European two-pin plug on so we had to bring the car up to the house and inflate it via the cigarette lighter while several teenage boys held it up to the window (the bed, not the car).  But hey, it worked.

Priced from £59.99 for a single. For more info and stockists see: aerobed.co.uk Ooh, and don’t forget the lovely John Lewis for all your stocking fillers too. Our favourites were the yoyos, slinkies and the good old potato gun.

FOR THE GIRLIES

Gorgeous undies and cute tops at mili b – this lovely website is run by a friend of my lubly mate Jane.  Highly recommended (they do stuff for adults and kids too):

Fearne and Holly -The Best Friends’ Guide to Life is just such a lovely book and would make a great gift for any girly.  BFFs in real life, they chat about love, friendship and fashion, and there are some fabulous photos too.

Green People have some fabulous gift boxes on their website, greenpeople.co.uk including this cute ‘Teen Angel‘ one (£22.99) containing a really nice quality Cleanse and Moisturise (50ml) with willow bark, green tea & mandarin, plus a volumising mascara.  All the ingredients are organic, 100% vegetarian and 100% cruelty free and 10% of their net profit is donated to organic and environmental charities.  What’s not to love? Celebrity Stylist Phil Smith’s gorgeous gift sets, available in Brunette and Blonde – just £5.00 each exclusively at Sainsbury’s make lovely little gifts:

If you’re being nagged about a puppy and it’s just not the right time, maybe you could adopt one instead? Purina PetCare is supporting Canine Partners – a charity which specially trains dogs to assist people with disabilities.  This is the gorgeous Ruben, who is already in training:

Adopt a dog for as little as £1.00 a week and you could make a fabulous difference to someone’s life too.

Tweezers with Attitude are cute little cartoon tweezers which make great stocking fillers – surprisingly good quality, my fave is the ‘Carrie’, but there’s lots to choose from – even a ‘Posh’ if you’re that way inclined!  They’re available from Victoria Health and loads of good pharmacies and gift shops priced just £2.99

FrontCover cosmetics make some really gorgeous gift sets.  Their ‘FrontCover To Go’ kit, which contains 20 removeable eyeshadows, a limited edition compact so you can take four of the shades with you, plus shadowline (which cleverly turns shadow into eyeliner),  applicators and expert instructions is absolutely great quality.  Check out www.frontcovercosmetics.com – Frontcover is on sale at selected Boots stores and on Boots.com.

The Homemade Company have gorgeous sets.  Check out the lovely ‘make your own lip balm’ kits which make lovely presents.

Previously Virgin VIE, VIE at Home still offers lovely high quality toiletries and cosmetics.  Tthe Moisturising Body Butter Duo (£15.00), is beautifully packaged and would make a lovely gift.  The Honey and Almond Body Butter is lovely and light and smells utterly delicious.  Available online from www.vieathome.com

Friends of my buddy Kerry, the lovely Jo and Al make fantastic upcycled jewellery.  Their Scrabble pendant line is made from actual board game pieces and this week they launched their limited edition range of amazing gold plated Scrabble pendants.  These extra special Scrabble tiles are part of a super bling version of the ordinary Scrabble game.  Each gold plated tile pendant comes with a gold plated chain and is priced at £45. The traditional Scrabble tile version with silver plated chains are still available at £8 and make perfect stocking fillers.  You can find more information here: http://scrabblependants.blogspot.com/

And especially for you they’ve got one of the original Scrabble pendants to give away.  Just  email me via the contact form at the top of the page with SCRABBLE in the title and tell me the letter you would like, along with your name and address.  UK only entries please.  Competition closes one week today!

Win Christmas presents with Tesco!

I blimmin’ LOVE Amanda Holden.  I loved her in Cutting It and I love her on Britain’s Got Talent.  I love the way she annoys (the surprising prudish) Simon Cowell with her slightly smutty comments and her filthy laugh is just brilliant.  I can imagine going out for a few cocktails and a good snigger with her.

I was delighted, then, to see her in the new Tesco Christmas advert ( ‘Penny, your name’s not ‘Belchere‘, it’s Belcher’) alongside the fabulous Fay Ripley and Mark Addy.

Tesco are launching a fab competition this Friday to link in with these great new adverts.  It’s a nice fun spot the difference competition, so even the blondes *cough* can join in.

Basically there will be two Tesco commercials playing side by side.  All you have to do is spot the differences.  If you get them all right you can enter to win the items mentioned in the commercial which include a camera, Guitar Hero and a Zhu Zhu hamster.

The competition is only open until next Wednesday so get moving!!

Simply click here to watch the Tesco advert and join in the competition.

And just especially for you, Tesco have one of the fabulous  Zhu Zhu Hamsters to give away to a lucky English Mum reader.  Just email me via the contact form at the top of the page with TESCO in the title and tell me the name of Amanda Holden’s daughter, along with your name and address.  UK only entries please.  This giveaway closes next Wednesday, 24th November 2010.

‘It’s ‘Belchere’ actually’.

***************************************

This competition is now closed.  Congratulations to the winner, Jenny Kearney from London, who will be receiving a Zhu Zhu hamster from Tesco!

Last minute panic? Relax, The Present Queen’s got you covered

Christmas-countdown

This lovely lady hardly needs an introduction, so without further ado, I’ll pass you onto my lovely mate, the wondrous and all-knowing Presents Queen who’s going to kiss it all better:

I know, it’s amazing isn’t it? Why did no one warn you that Christmas was on December 25th this year?

And that it’s not very far away now, and that with every passing hour, yet another online retailer’s last guaranteed before Christmas delivery deadline passes. And still you’ve not done anything. And Christmas Eve is upon you.

Perhaps you fancy Christmas Day, out in the cold, on your own.

If not, then all is not lost. All you need are your PC, your internet connection, a printer and a few other peripherals of your choice.

Oh, and don’t forget your credit card! Here goes:

1) Head on over to iTunes. Now, anyone can go on there, download the latest top selling boy band/girl band/rock compilation. But to get more brownie points take a few moments to create your own iMix of tunes that mean something to both of you, or that follow some sort of theme. Perhaps memories of a special holiday, or songs from films that your other half loves, or from their teens obsessed by New Romantics. Buy the mix, burn the CD, even print the artwork. It shows some effort on your behalf, which always helps.

http://www.itunes.com 

2) Magazine subscriptions are always a good standby, and they are the gift that keeps on giving through out the year. I like Great Magazines, as the range is great, plus they also have printable cards when you’ve selected the gift, and e-cards. A lot of the magazines also offer free gifts when you sign someone up, so a double bonus! There are plenty of choices for all sorts of interests, and there’s even a Gift Finder to give you some suggestions if you’re not sure. Can’t find the one you’re looking for? Try Magscriber for other magazines, but no printable cards. Even better, slip out quick to the garage and see if you can get the current copy of the magazine and then attach the printable card to it.

http://www.greatmagazines.co.uk

http://www.magscriber.com

3) Travel tickets. Not necessarily cheap but certainly guaranteed to keep you out of the Christmas doghouse. With the age of the e-ticket firmly with us for pretty much all travel, then printing one of these out has to be acceptable. You could add in a few images from Google Images perhaps of the destination, and maybe an IOU for a guide book. Or, if you’ve still got some blank CDs, then you can now download walking tours and cultural guides to different locations from iTunes or Amazon. Depending on where you’ve booked for, and your corner shop, you might even be able to get something produced in that country. Hopefully wine.

4) In a similar vein, concert or theatre tickets can be done in the same way, and you can even go back to the download idea to add something else to this, like a greatest hit mix or a soundtrack.

5) Go ethical, even at the last minute. Practical Presents offer an e-card option, and you can even select the gift card and a bookmark to still be delivered, just slightly later than the traditional gift giving day. You can buy everything from goats to trees, teacher training to school meals. Obviously not to arrive through the post, but to go somewhere where they are really needed.

http://www.practicalpresents.co.uk

6) Now, there’s bound to be an off-licence or garage shop open late enough for even the most last minute shopper. We’re not suggesting that a bottle of Lambrusco is going to do the trick, but how about renting a row of vines for them, and wrapping the joining certificate round the best bottle of wine you can get from the offie? WineShare does offer gift options, but if you’ve missed that, buy the basic package for now. Your loved one will get their own row of vines, which they can purchase the wine from when it is ready. You can make a trip of it and go and collect from the vineyard, or have them delivered to your own front door. You can also try Buy A Gift or Vintage Wine Gifts as other alternatives. Oh, and if it’s a posh garage and you can get a bottle of olive oil then consider sponsoring an olive tree with Nudo, and they’ll deliver the harvest to your door at least once a year.

http://www.wineshare.co.uk

http://www.vintagewinegifts.co.uk

http://www.buyagift.co.uk

http://www.nudo-italia.com

7) It could be them, if you treat them to a Lottery ticket. You can now buy online, and youYour browser may not support display of this image. can buy up to 8 weeks ahead, for the main lottery draws, including the EuroMillions. It could be the best Christmas present they ever get from you. Or it might just stretch to two pints and a packet of crisps!

http://www.national-lottery.co.uk

8) Never complain there’s nothing on the telly again, by signing them up for a DVD rental service like LoveFILM. You can compile a list of all the films you think they’d like to see, or see again, and pay the year’s subscription for them. You can either print off the list, or let them discover it for themselves. If they really like surprises then they can wait for each film to pop through the letterbox!

http://www.lovefilm.com

9) Most gift experiences will let you print out the details when you pay for them now. So Your browser may not support display of this image. you can choose something with a real adrenalin rush, or something more relaxed, or even something to do together like learn to cook Indian food. If you really want to indulge your loved one, then Spa Finder offers vouchers that can be used at a huge range of spas around not just the UK but the whole world! And you can print them out just before you head downstairs.

(I would use either Virgin Experiences, Red Letter Days or Buy A Gift if you want to provide a link to a gift experience provider)

http://www.spafinder.co.uk

10) Socks might not be the most exciting thing, but they are practical, and most men always seem to need them! Sock Rush will rush your loved one 4 pairs of socks, 4 times a year. They are all black, they can be long or short, and the short ones can have coloured toes if you or he fancy something a bit racy. It’s a novel way to get something that’s not that exciting!

http://www.sockrush.co.uk

Well, that’s my top ten, which mean you can solve your present crisis from the comfort of your own home. If you’re still not inspired, then have a read of this article from The Times, which shows you the real adrenalin packed way to do the last minute thing. Be warned, it involves crowds and hurtling round in your car, and the risk of still getting the cold shoulder! Good luck!

So there you have it, Christmas for slackers all wrapped up - thanks lovely girl.  And remember, if all else fails you can always send one of Tesco’s Greener Living e-cards.  I promised my lovely mate Matt I’d remind everyone to send one (he wants us all to save the planet).  Every cards earns 5p for the Woodland Trust too.

 

Mise’s coconut ice: the perfect retro present

Well, well, well, hello again!  We’re all moved over to the UK (after much swearing and broken fingernails packing the house up, then a ferry crossing from hell with storm force winds and high seas).  We’re moved into English Towers Mark 2 (kitchen is a B+ but garden’s a C-) but sadly I’ve no internet connection, so I’m going to hand you over to my lovely friend Mise for a little retro pressie making.  Chat soon!

Hi there, I’m Mise from Pretty Far West and I’m here to help. You’ve been reading the lifestyle blogs and you’ve realised that this year you can’t just buy junk from the ‘For Her’ and ‘For Him’ stands of the chain-stores as Christmas gifts, as they won’t show that you’re Vintage, Frugal, Retro and Caring.  So what can you do? Well, while you’re thinking about it you could make a batch of old-fashioned Coconut Ice to give to your aunts in beautifully-wrapped little boxes.  Here’s how.

 Coconut ice (c) PrettyFarWest.blogspot.com

You’ll need:

250g sugar

75 ml milk

a splash of rose water or 1 tsp vanilla essence,

75g desiccated coconut

 a few drops of red food-colouring.

1.  Heat the milk and sugar in a heavy saucepan until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer it gently until it reaches the soft ball stage. That means that if you drop a spoonful into a glass of cold water, it’ll form a soft ball. Don’t worry if you boil it for too long: it may turn into coconut toffee.

2.  Remove from heat, stir in the coconut and rose water or vanilla. Mix well (it’ll start to become firm).

3.  Turn half of the mixture out onto a sheet of greased greaseproof paper (in a square tin or just on a big plate).

4.  Add a few drops of red food-colouring to the rest, mix it in, and press the pink mixture down on top of the white. Tidy the edges a bit if you like by pressing them in with a knife.

5.  In a few minutes it’ll be firm enough to cut into squares (this should make about 16 pieces). Leave it in the fridge for an hour and then remove from the tin or plate.

I was surprised at how well this turned out – it was delicious and much sought after. Add more colouring if you prefer a brighter pink. Play the Bee Gees while you’re working to enter fully into the spirit of the thing. And tell your aunts I said hello.

Off to the kitchen with you then, and I’ll be back soon with more guest posts and fabulous ideas for a cracking Christmas.  Mwah! x

I’d like to thank winner of the 3.55 at Fairyhouse…

So yesterday saw both me and Jen setting out on epic cross-Ireland journeys to meet somewhere in the middle (bad planning moving so far away from each other) at a hotel where we sat, gossiped, giggled – no, hang on, there was something else – oh yes, and rolled 85 Order of Service sheets into scrolls and tied them with 85 little bows of ‘To have and to hold’ ribbon from the luscious Cox & Cox.

Before I left, Jen produced a heeowge box (she’s only teeny and it was nearly as big as her) which she said was our wedding present and I was strictly instructed to open it as soon as I got home.  Apparently, she said, it wasn’t exactly perfect and she was a bit disappointed, but still, it was a nice present anyway.  Even after pointing out that we weren’t strictly getting married (‘okay, call it an anniversary present then’), I was deeply suspicious as Madame J was somewhat squeaky and excited about this present.  I actually suspected it might be a chicken.  A heavy chicken, granted… maybe a chicken and a couple of bricks.

Well, dearest reader, the journey home seemed to take the longest time and finally I pulled back up at English Towers where I was greeted by two small boys (and one large one) who totally ignored me and made a beeline for the pressie.  ‘What is it?!  Open it!  Open it!’  So with the chicken thing still in my mind I made them open it in the kitchen and I think I’m quite within my rights here to write OMG.  A KitchenAid!  A bloody KitchenAid!!!

(c) Englishmum.com

Apparently this incredibly generous present was somewhat attributable to the racing prowess of two horses that Jen’s other half C bet on.  So thanks go not only to Jen and the lovely, adorable C (who chose the colour – I love it!) but to Mark Anthony and Swift View for coming in first.  I love you guys horses.

(c) Englishmum.com

‘So hang on’, says #1, ‘last week on your blog you said that you wished somebody would give you a KitchenAid and here you are unwrapping one’.  ‘Erm…yes, I suppose you could say that’, says I.  ‘Right then’, says #1, ‘I want you to put on your blog that I want a 50″ wide screen TV, online gaming and the new Call of Duty 6′. 

‘Done’, says I, ‘but don’t hold your breath’.