Have you worked out your personal style? It’s a tough one. I think by now, in my mid-forties, I’ve kind of sorted out roughly what suits me and what doesn’t: I like a mostly minimalist style in a palette of grey, black and white, and I tend to stick to classic styles, with the odd bit of leopard thrown in for good measure. What if, though, you could have access to your own personal stylist? Would you be interested in maybe shaking up your look? I’d love to be braver, especially at Christmas! I was intrigued and delighted to be invited to try Tuesday from M&S, a new, free, personal styling service that aims to provide style inspiration (with no obligation to buy).
You all know that I love everything to do with Christmas, and once the lights have been switched on in London, I’m always desperate to take a trip to go and see them. Mr E works really hard and we don’t get much opportunity to do things as a family, so I thought we’d plan a lovely festive trip up to London on the train to go and see the lights (and maybe grab some dinner and a cocktail or two) while we’re there. While we were planning our trip, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try Trainline’s new Price Prediction tool to get the best possible ticket price. Here’s how we got on.
You know that friend: she always looks amazing, even just in jeans, and of course she has a lovely, welcoming home, a gorgeous wardrobe and impeccable taste, and that all just makes festive pressie buying a bit – well – difficult! I came across this very dilemma recently when the lovely chaps at John Lewis asked if I’d like to do a pressie swap with the effortlessly stylish Sara, who writes the beautiful lifestyle blog, Notes from a Stylist. I mean, ARGH! Luckily, not only is Sara very lovely and friendly, but it turns out we also have lots in common: teenage kids, yummy food (bring on the roast dinners), a love of interiors, stationery, twinkly things, beautiful flowers and lovely smells. Of course, there are also things we don’t have in common: mostly the fact that I have no style whatsoever, which is why I was reading her blog and following her in the first place – to pick up some tips. So how on earth do you choose festive gifts for a stylish friend? Well…
Stir-up Sunday is coming, people! I absolutely love this weekend as, for me, it properly signifies the start of Christmas. The kitchen is filled with the warming scents of orange and spice, and there’s lots of stirring and steaming: all my favourite things! If you fancy making your own Christmas puddings this year, I’ve added the ingredients list nice and early so you can make sure you have everything ready. Remember that, if you follow this recipe, you’ll actually need to start on the Saturday as I recommend steeping the fruit overnight – also, do remember that steaming the pudding takes about five hours, so don’t start everything too late or you’ll be steaming when you should be sleeping! So, for the Christmas pudding recipe 2017, I’ve kept it simple: no figs, no apricots, just a lot of cranberries and plenty of spice. Here’s how to do it:
I’ve been writing about cooking Christmas dinner on this blog for ten years, can you believe that? When you’re thinking about cooking Christmas dinner (or indeed lunch) for everyone, it can seem a bit daunting, but I always say that it’s basically just a big roast dinner, and if you think about it like that, and make sure you’re really well prepared, it’s a piece of cake. The lovely team at Crisp ‘n Dry (remember I worked with them when they sponsored RNLI Fish Suppers?) have asked me to share my top tips and cook a little practice Christmas dinner – a ‘Crisp ‘n Dry run’ if you will – geddit?!), to show you that with a little love (and Crisp ‘n Dry), your ordinary Christmas dinner can really become the ultimate festive feast. Here are my top five tips for planning the perfect Christmas dinner.
So that’s it, Alcohol Awareness week is over, and I promised to tell you about how I got on with my challenge to stick to the recommended weekly guidelines: that’s 14 units a week, spread across the week, evenly over three or more days with a couple of alcohol free days. I continued to keep a track of my units with the help of the Drinkaware app, and alongside it, kept a diary of what I had to drink and the circumstances in which I was drinking. Here are a few things I learned:
I adore candles. When I’m writing, I’ll often have a scented candle lit next to me while I type. I find it quite soothing and I love filling the room with delicious scent, although I’ve had to stop leaving them lit around the house (let’s not mention that time I turned the entire downstairs loo black by leaving a Halloween Yankee Candle burning all night – yes, it had to be redecorated). You know I love everything about the autumn, and I always get excited to see beautiful new scented Christmas candles appearing online and in the shops. Here are a few of my favourites:
I absolutely adore making a roast dinner on a Sunday, but another favourite of ours is this delicious slow cooked beef and red wine stew with dumplings. Sunday dinners can sometimes be quite labour intensive, but this one is so easy: once you’ve done a quick bit of browning off, the whole thing goes back in the oven until you add the dumplings, and then you’re basically on the home stretch. I love to add some fresh (or dried) herbs to the dumplings, and serve it with either piles of creamy mash, or one of our new favourites, these delicious, sage scented sweet potatoes. I prefer to use veggie suet in my dumplings as it gives a much lighter, fluffier texture than if you use butter, but of course feel free to use whatever you like. This stew also makes the perfect filling for a pie too. Perfect for a chilly autumn evening.
So last week I told you a little about my relationship with alcohol, and my Drinkaware challenge during Alcohol Awareness Week to stick to the recommended weekly guidelines: that’s 14 units a week, spread across the week, evenly over three or more days with a couple of alcohol free days. Last week, I also kept an alcohol diary, with the help of the Drinkaware app (and the notes on my phone to record the actual circumstances). Here’s how I got on:
It’s that time of year when we all seem to be more susceptible to colds and sniffles. Of course, there are obvious things we should do to avoid catching other people’s colds, like washing our hands, keeping surfaces clean (especially if you have kids who seem bring everything back from school (remember those door handles!) and avoiding touching our faces. If the worst comes to the worst, though, and you find yourself battling the common cold, what should you do? Here are my top tips, shared in partnership with family favourite decongestant oil brand, Olbas:
I adore winter dressing! No worries about whether you’re showing knobbly knees or less-than-perfect upper arms: it’s all about snuggly jumpers, soft textures, boots and tights. Hurrah! Some of my favourite outfits recently have been deliciously easy and wintery: a soft, bronze pleated skirt with a black roll neck jumper and boots, and leather leggings teamed with a crisp, white shirt and a slouchy grey jumper (and topped off with a gorgeous black teddy bear coat). For me, it seems so much less complicated to put together a great outfit at this time of year. I love hush for good quality, wearable style, and the new hush winter 17 collection has some delicious pieces. Here are some of my favourites:
How’s your relationship with alcohol? I’d say that mine’s… complicated. When we were younger, I was always the one who would volunteer to drive. I’m naturally quite chatty and happy, and it didn’t occur to me that I needed to drink alcohol to have a good time, therefore I was generally the designated driver, and happy enough with it. Now, we don’t tend to go out much, so our drinking is done at home, and this has increased steadily over time. Add to this the fact that we really love our wine, to the point that I write about it and we even invest in it, and you’ll see why our alcohol consumption has steadily grown. Next week, 13th to 19th November is Alcohol Awareness Week, and I’ve been thinking a little bit about how (and why) I drink. It’s been an interesting time…
Finally there’s a chill in the air and even a touch of frost on the ground! Autumn weekends for me mean roast dinners and especially roast lamb. Of course, mint goes perfectly with lamb, as does anything a little sweet, and this slow roasted lamb shoulder with a sticky mint glaze – a little twist on my slow roasted lamb in sloe gin – uses mint jelly to create a delicious, sticky coating to make sweet, meltingly soft, falling-apart, no carving required, slow roasted lamb. Look out for jars labelled apple and mint jelly or just mint jelly (not mint sauce) in the supermarket. You can make your own (my Mum would be the expert here – I’ll have to ask her) but it involves straining, and frankly I feel life’s a bit short to tackle anything that involves muslin on a weekend. For the potatoes, use a whole bulb of garlic and just press on it gently with the heel of your hand to separate the cloves. Discard the very papery bits but don’t bother peeling them. I like to use large baking potatoes for my roasties. Allow one per person plus a couple of extra if you’re big eaters like my fellas.
So I’ve been telling you about my magical trip to Los Angeles with Virgin Holidays. After our fantastic foodie tour of East LA and a stop off to explore Temecula wine country, we headed to our final destination, San Diego. We arrived quite late in the afternoon from Temecula and went straight to our hotel, the gorgeously colourful Kona Kai Resort & Spa, before quickly popping to our rooms to freshen up before going straight out to dinner. We only had a very limited time in San Diego and were determined to make the most of it, so our foodie day in San Diego strictly started the night before with a visit to Liberty Station, before returning to properly explore the next day.
One year, when the kids were small and we were still living in Ireland, our whole family came over to spend Christmas with us. I remember it as the most magical time: loads of fun and laughter, walks to the pub snuggled up in hats and scarves, the kids opening their presents together on Christmas morning… Years later, we still talk about our lovely family Christmas together, and one of the things we’ve considered is renting a cosy cottage somewhere and decamping as a family for the festive period. I’m thinking The Holiday but with considerably more people. So why am I hankering after getting away from it all? Well, here are five great reasons why we should all be having a cosy cottage Christmas:
How do you feel about cooking the Christmas dinner? I absolutely love having Christmas at home and I’m never happier than when I’m in the kitchen (made even nicer now we’ve knocked the wall down to the dining room so everyone can chat and mingle together). We’ve gone out on Christmas Day before, but we all prefer to be at home so we can relax and have a drink (and also, eating out is expensive – I’ve had a couple of emails from local pubs and restaurants advertising Christmas lunch menus, and they’re all around the £60 – £75 per person mark). I do know, though, that even if you love to cook, Christmas dinner is a big undertaking: there’s all the planning and shopping, and you might already have lots to do with buying gifts, maybe getting ready to have relatives to stay. I was pretty interested, then, when recipe box company HelloFresh got in touch and asked if I’d like to try the HelloFresh Christmas Box. Here’s how I got on.
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