Quark cheesecake recipe in association with the Queen of Quark

I had an email a couple of weeks ago asking me if I wanted to ‘Quark up my life.’

Well. Who doesn’t?

I immediately burst into song. ‘People of the world!’ etc etc

It turns out the project wasn’t music related, but was actually a call to action from the Queen of Quark – Bavarian royalty on a mission, with World Quark Day on January 19th, to inspire the people of the UK to love Quark as much as she does for its low-calorie, high-protein, all round versatility.

All hail the Queen of Quark. *makes fanfare noise*

I decided to run with the musical theme anyway, and set myself a challenge – just how many Spice Girls can you crowbar into a Quark cheesecake recipe title? (Two apparently.)

Quark is a fat-free soft cheese, that’s similar in texture to sour cream. It can be used in all sorts of recipes, sweet and savoury, as a healthy substitute for yogurt or soft cheese. Think protein-rich fruit smoothies, avocado dips, quiche… or in my case, think ‘posh ginger spice Quark cheesecake.’

The ginger element comes from the use of ginger biscuits in the base and ground ginger in the topping, and the posh bit is the chocolate swirl on top. Have a look. Admire my swirl:

Quark cheesecake

Impressive yes? It reminds me a bit of the lovely Metis cheesecake I made a while ago – that had a VERY pretty swirly top.

If my Quark cheesecake gets you thinking about what other things you could make with Quark, then do check out the FREE E-BOOK of Quark recipes from the Queen of Quark, which you can download here. View Post

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I had a round-up email this morning from The Pool. One of the headlines, from Viv Groskop, immediately caught my eye:

‘THROW AWAY YOUR PLAN B – AND GET WHAT YOU REALLY WANT’

I didn’t get as far as actually clicking and reading the article as I was very busy lying in bed and looking at the cats but I immediately got what it was talking about.

A few days ago I was in town with a list of jobs in my head. ‘I’m going here next,’ I said to the person with me, ‘to organise this.’ The ‘this’ was an event I wanted to put on at a particular venue.

‘What if they say no,’ said the other person, ‘what’s your Plan B?’

I stopped for a bit and looked confused.

‘Plan B?’ I said. ‘I didn’t think to make a Plan B?’

It literally had not occurred to me that the venue wouldn’t be falling over themselves to let me do what I wanted, when I wanted to do it, and I think that this is a GOOD THING.

Why you don't need a Plan B View Post

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Post in association with On the Beach

I’ve got this thing with my nose.

When it gets cold, it goes red – a shiny, bright red, Rudolph style. I would like to say it’s kind of sexy and adorable, but it’s not, it’s just RED. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time, now Grannyhood is looming, before I start walking around with drips on the end of it. I may also grow warts on my chin.

What I really need is to be out of this cold, miserable weather and lying on a warm beach somewhere, living my best body-confident bikini life. Any nose redness then can be passed off as me being ‘sun-kissed’, which is a much better look.

family beach holidays

Perfect timing then for a 2019 Family Beach Index from holiday experts On the Beach.
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Feeling hungry? I’m back today with more inspiration as part of my partnership with the ‘Lamb. Try It, Love It‘ campaign, so if you need a bit of meaty inspiration read on…

One of the things I desperately wanted to do this year was find myself some new office space. When I moved back to Taunton, (five years ago this June, can you believe??), I started sharing a lovely room with a couple of guys in the centre of town. Last spring I moved with one of them to share with new people, but then there was a change of circumstances, and as the summer holidays rolled around I found myself back at my kitchen table, between the fridge freezer and the cat litter tray.

I was not really living the aspirational freelance life.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy working at home, it’s just that when it’s just you and a teenager and three cats in the house, you really do need to leave it from time to time, for everyone’s sake. Also when I’m at home I get easily distracted watching old episodes of First Dates and roasting random vegetables I find in the bottom of the fridge*, so it’s good to have somewhere to go where you can’t do this.

This week then I started a bit of casual office sharing somewhere new, away from the lure of the limp cauliflower. Starting a new office, a bit like the first day back at school, is an excellent excuse to buy a new lunchbox, so I bought this cat bento box:

cat bento box office lunch ideas

Honestly, I am LIVING for it. View Post

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Since discovering I’m going to become a GRANNY this summer – read all about it here – I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want my Granny name to be.

In terms of the more traditional options, Granny is my favourite. I’m not particularly keen on Nan or Nanny. I don’t know why, but when I think of Nan I imagine a woman in one of those cleaning tabards, leaning against a back door, smoking a cigarette and looking cross. No offence to all the Nans out there. Nanny is just Nanny McPhee, and I don’t have any hairy moles (yet).

My mum and her mum are/were both Gran, and my Dad’s mum was Grandma, so I want something a bit different from those, and Granny has an air of mischief about it that I like. I imagine a Granny would do thinks like hide miniature bottles of prosecco in her handbag when she took her grandchildren to soft play. Although come to think of it, my Gran used to take a thermos of gin and tonic when she took me to the beach, so perhaps that’s more genetic than name based.

Me as a Granny emptying my vast handbag, Mary Poppins/portable gin bar style

So what should I be called?  View Post

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While I don’t really have to think about structured childcare anymore, lots of families with young children do. I still remember the nightmare of trying to fill a seemingly never-ending six weeks of the summer holidays with a carefully compromised combination of family and friends helping out, ‘fun’ football summer camps, time off work and days and days of activities that needed to suit a teenager who didn’t want to do anything and a small hyperactive child. There’s only so much money you can spend on Tango Ice Blasts at the cinema before you go a little bit crazy.

I was lucky enough that despite being a single parent, I’ve spent a lot of my children’s school lives working from home which made it so much easier on a day to day basis, not having to think about long term childcare or after school clubs. But lots of families don’t have that luxury, with both parents needing to work full time. It can be really daunting leaving your child in the hands of a childcare professional for a large part of the day, and you might not know which sort of childcare is right for you. What’s the difference between a nanny and an au pair? How do I know they can be trusted and have the right references? Will I need someone every day or just for a few hours a week? All these questions can have you second guessing your choices while deciding which childcare is right for you.

how to choose a nanny View Post

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I’ve always wanted the chance to stay in a vintage VW camper. In fact, it’s on my list of 50 things to do before 50 – the new, vaguely anxiety-inducing list I’ve created since turning 40. (50? I will surely never be 50 years old?)

I’ve done a couple of longer road trips in big, modern motorhomes and absolutely loved them – the simplification of life, minimal stuff, and that feeling of being away from the real world is magical. There’s something very relaxing about it taking half an hour and a trip to an outdoors tap to make a cup of tea.

I’ve always wondered though how I’d get on in something a little less luxurious. It hardly counts as roughing it in a van if your double bed comes down from the ceiling at the press of a button does it?

Cue Happy Days Campervan Hire.

Happy Days is a family run business near Falmouth. They’ve been doing campervan hire in Cornwall for less than a year, but their two 1970s Volkswagen Westfalia Campervans are already proving very popular for weekend breaks and longer holidays. Both vans feature beautiful vintage interiors and are small but perfectly formed. They have full width double beds, space in the roof for a small one, and in good weather you could sleep another couple of people in a drive-away awning.

Now what I probably should have said when Happy Days got in touch, asking if I wanted to have a play with one of their vans for the weekend, is ‘that sounds amazing! How about doing something in the spring?’

What actually happened was that I was so over-excited that I looked at the calendar to find the nearest possible date I could feasibly do and said ‘Yes please! How about December 15th?’

I don’t know if you remember, but the weekend of December 15th was the one with the incredibly high winds and torrential rain. Couple this with a remote campsite on the most southerly coastline in the UK and it would be fair to say that it wasn’t exactly what you’d call optimal camping conditions.

Pah!

The sound of rain on a camper van while you’re tucked up inside is ace isn’t it? We packed our blankets, downloaded some films onto the laptop, filled a bag with ginger biscuits, hot chocolate and jumbo salted peanuts, and off we went.

We picked up Olive, the aptly named green VW campervan of the pair at Happy Days, at teatime on Friday. At a sensible time of the year it would have been still light of course, but we managed a pretty smooth handover by torchlight, and I took the wheel confidently, putting Belle in charge of directions to our campsite, half an hour away.

VW campervan hire UK

The ‘taking the wheel confidently’ bit is important. I’ve found over the years in these sort of situations that with Belle, the best thing to do is not let any nerves show at all, but to just assume the role of ‘person in charge who absolutely knows what they’re doing and definitely doesn’t have any doubts at all about how to change gear.’ View Post

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Happy New Year!

I love a bit of new year. I love setting goals and fresh starts and spring cleans and all the things that typically come with a new year. I’ve already washed the kitchen floor and cleaned the bathroom today, and I’ve not eaten a sausage roll in about 20 hours.

Although I do love Christmas, December felt a little bit overwhelming. I had a little knot in my stomach of anxiety that came and went throughout the month and I found it hard to get as excited as I usually would about list making.

(Horror! What is life without the joy of a list?)

I knew that once Christmas ticked over though, that I would feel better, and I did. I do. I have a new diary, a cool calendar, a fist-full of lists for all occasions and I’m ready for 2019, whatever it may bring.

One of the things that 2019 is set to bring is this:

grandparent blog

TADA!

No, it’s not mine, at least not entirely. It’s 25% me though. Come July, Bee is going to be a Mummy, and my blog is going to become, at least in spirit, Slummy Single (Grand)Mummy. View Post

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If you enjoy this roast neck of lamb recipe you might also like this Greek lamb meatball lunch.

As you may remember from my recent post about lamb kebabs, I am on something of a lamb based journey over the next few months – a meaty pilgrimage if you will – to showcase the ‘Lamb. Try it. Love it.‘ campaign. I’m exploring different cuts of lamb and creating tasty recipes that show that cooking with lamb doesn’t have to be difficult OR expensive.

Today’s roast neck of lamb recipe ticks both of these boxes – it’s a very simple ‘all in one pan’ dish, that I reckon you can have on the table in 40 minutes. It uses lamb neck fillets, which I have to say is something I would NEVER have thought to buy before, and is easily scalable depending on how many people you’re cooking for. It would work well as a special dinner for two, or scale up the ingredients, add loads of vegetables on the side, and turn it into a feast for family and friends.

The lamb is cooked with sweet potatoes, pine nuts, lemon and honey, and the lemon slices make it look super pretty when it comes out of the oven. This lamb dish would be lovely as a simple supper over Christmas – loads of flavour and style but with minimum effort.

roast lamb neck fillet recipe

How to cook roast neck of lamb fillets

First things first, you need to buy your neck fillets. I’m sure this is something you could get from the butchers, but I went for these from Tesco. Going by the nutritional information per serving, I would say this would be two generous portions, so that’s what the rest of my measurements are based on. You can be flexible though, depending on how much meat you like, your budget and what side dishes you add in, so take my recipe as a loose guide. View Post

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I never get woken up at 6am on a Sunday by someone shoving a Barbie into my face, I never have to wrestle a screaming toddler into a car seat and I haven’t done a school run in years. Not a proper one where I have to stand awkwardly on the playground pretending I don’t care that the other parents don’t talk to me.

I was about to say I don’t have to worry about whether I cut sandwiches into triangles or squares, but then I remembered that Belle doesn’t like it when I cut grilled wraps at odd angles to the grill lines, so perhaps that one is still a thing.

When I found out that I was a finalist again this year in the Vuelio Blog Awards, in the ‘Best Parent Blog’ category, I felt like a bit of a fraud. My ‘children’ are 23 and 16, I thought to myself, does that really count any more? I checked on what day the judging was going to be taking place and made sure I had a recent post with the word ‘parent’ in the title, as though that would be the thing that proved it.

On the night of the awards, I packed my sequinned jumpsuit and set off for the train station, but had to turn back because Belle needed me at home. There was some crying. We watched the awards unfold on Twitter instead and there it was:

It felt ironic really. All that worrying over whether I still really counted as a parent, and then I couldn’t collect the award because I was at home, parenting. View Post

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In association with Wayfair

What does Christmas day look like in your house?

Ours has always started with Christmas stockings. Bee and Belle will both come into my bed, (via FaceTime last year when Bee was in England and we were in Ireland), and they will take turns to open a present. Stockings are a mixture of fun things and useful stuff – always socks, often something with a flamingo theme for Bee, just to annoy her.

This year I dared to suggest that as Bee was 23 now, perhaps she didn’t need a stocking any more?

‘I’m just going to pretend you didn’t say that,’ she said. And that was the end of that.

After stockings, we go downstairs for the obligatory festive Bucks Fizz, and to loll about for a while on the sofa while people take turns to shower and get dressed and smaller members of the family organise presents from the tree into piles. ‘You’re sitting there Gran, next to your pile.’

As a family we give a lot of presents, but this year seems to be a bit different. My sister and her family have moved this year into a much smaller house, so they don’t physically have the space for anymore STUFF and that seems to have rubbed off onto the rest of us. There are so many THINGS already in the world, do we really all need a dozen more each?

No, of course not.

The secret really is quality rather than quantity – taking the time to choose one or two things that you know someone will love, rather than just panic buying a load of tat. It’s easier said than done sometimes though, hard to know what people will actually LIKE.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, Wayfair has put together some Christmas gift lists, aimed at very specific groups of people. Looking for a gift for a pet lover? There’s a list for that. Want to splash out on something luxurious for someone special? There’s a list for that. Need to shop for a fussy millennial? Try the millennials gift list.

Wayfair asked me to have a look at the millennial gift list in particular to pick out a few of my favourite things. I’m not technically a millennial myself, but Bee comes in at one end of the generation and my sister at the other, so it’s always handy to have some inspiration. They may be known as the snowflake generation, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to buy Christmas gifts for.

OBVIOUSLY the first thing I was drawn to was this Cat Whisperer print from Gemma Correll:

gemma correll print View Post

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There’s always so much to think about when it comes to giving gifts to small children at Christmas.

Will it make a mess?

Will it be noisy?

Will it be so horrendously annoying that next year the parents will give it back to me in the same wrapping paper so I can see how it feels to live with it?

‘But I wanted to introduce them to the joy of music…’

But what if some of the gifts we give without a second thought could actually be hurting our children if used incorrectly? What if a certain toy could in fact have the ability to permanently damage a child’s eyesight?

*scary music* View Post

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