So it’s just dawned on me, after all the excitement of Florida, that I’ve totally missed out one of the birthday cakes: the birthday chocolate orange cheesecake! You all know about the birthday challenge, right? The birthday person gets to choose whatever birthday cake/dessert they want (within reason – I don’t do novelty cakes, I’m too cack handed), and I make it for them. I told you about Sam’s birthday lemon meringue pie, but then completely missed out Charlie’s chocolate orange cheesecake. This didn’t start well as I tried everywhere to find Terry’s Chocolate Oranges in all our local shops and supermarkets and just couldn’t find any, so I had to settle for Lindor Truffles. Still, it all turned out okay. Here’s how I made it:
Recently, you’ll remember, I shared my little Florida secret with you – a deliciously quirky and lovely little barrier island just off the coast of northern Florida called Amelia Island. The boys and I spent a wonderful week there making some treasured memories together, and I wanted to tell you a bit more about what we got up to. We sat down and had a little head to head and came up with our favourite five things to do when you’re out and about on Amelia Island. And guess what’s number one…?
Ahhh, this is so lovely. So Marks and Spencer contacted me recently about their new campaign: Decades at School celebrating over a century of helping parents get their kids ready to go back to school. They’re showcasing their back to school archives, focusing on the evolution of everything from uniform to packed lunches.
Okay, slightly cheating here as there’s no actual baking involved, but cheesecake is still cake, right? Anyway, yesterday was Charlie’s 18th birthday. How I came to be the mother of an 18 year old when I’m such a youngster is beyond me, but anyway it happened, and as usual, the Birthday Big Cheese got to choose the birthday cake of his dreams. No surprises here as Charlie basically always chooses variations of the same thing (which is a welcome change from the others who tend to devise me a GBBO-style technical challenge for every birthday) and this time chose an Oreo chocolate cheesecake. To make sure your cheesecake is smooth and silky, make sure you allow the cream cheese to come up to room temperature first.
We had a such a lovely new year. Turtle, my gorgeous niece, made the most amazing cocktails, we had a scrummy dinner cooked by my very clever sister in law (the sweet potato and chorizo was a revelation), and then Sam, Charlie, Jackson and even, hilariously, my brother IJ and I had a mad dancing competition on the Wii. A fab time. It ended with champagne and cuddles with velvet nosed doggies on squishy sofas watching the New Year fireworks on the telly. I couldn’t have been happier.
Last year at this time I vowed to be completely alcohol free in January. I’ve got to be honest, it was tough, but I DID end January feeling amazing (and a whole 8lb lighter – without even trying!). I also said I’d never do it again (and I got a special edition bottle of Bombay Sapphire for Christmas – sob…), but here we are again after two back to back holidays during which I overindulged in both the food AND the booze, and then Christmas and its associated gluttony. And frankly, after my disgusting behaviour on Christmas Eve (there was singing. And I don’t even remember going to bed), I probably owe it to my liver to give it a holiday.
Sometimes an intervention needs to be take place for anyone whose drinking has got out of control before it’s too late.
Bring it on, then, 2013, I’m ready and raring to go!
What do you do at the weekends? After our lie in (that bit’s non-negotiable – I usually have to start crashing about or hoovering at about 11am or they’d sleep all day), we generally head out. We’re big on brunch and have tried most of the establishments in the area. Other than that, the Death Wish Dude is often at a skate park, near or far, the Mad Professor likes to socialise, or there’s cricket practice, chauffeur duty from various parties, a bit of baking for me… and then the large glass of wine and some trash TV to finish it all off.
Pretty boring, I suppose, but then apparently as a nation, Brits are pretty boring, weekend-wise.
Recent research has shown that over half of us rate our weekends as ‘average’ and, more shockingly, 18% say that their weekends are, and I quote, ‘boring’.
Going through this research has been a revelation. You’d think we’d love our weekends: an opportunity to spend time with our family, have a lie in, go out to eat… visit a local beauty spot, maybe? But no, apparently we’re a nation of boring old moaners who spend their weekends at home.
Shockingly, even though 91% of us said that we’d be prepared to use our cars for the weekend, the average we’d be prepared to travel is just 58 miles. 58 miles? That wouldn’t even get me to the seaside!
And even those who enjoyed their weekends didn’t get up to very much, the top weekend activity being, well, staying in.
Happily, the chaps at Allianz have decided that this has got to change, and have launched Great British Weekends, instilling us all with a fresh sense of adventure. And who can blame them, with this, the year of the Olympics AND the Jubilee (and those extra Bank Holidays), we should be out and about, enjoying our beautiful country – especially now summer is around the corner.
First off there’s the Allianz Your Cover Find & Drive Smartphone app which helps locate essential services when on the move, plus Allianz Your Cover Insurance is running a competition for two lucky Twitter followers to win an annual family National Trust membership. Just follow them @YourCoverUK to enter and use #GBweekend to find out more.
So what’s stopping you? Join the Allianz Your Cover Insurance Great British Weekends campaign by joining their Facebook page and get more out of your weekends!
To find more out about Allianz Your Cover Insurance visit www.yourcoverinsurance.co.uk
We’ve had a bit of an up and down relationship with the Village Gate. We went there en famille (and we’re a grande famille, trust me) for my Mum’s birthday last year and had an excellent time. The place is absolutely gorgeous: a typical village pub revamped in a really clever, stylish way. The menu was great – creative and varied, the service fast and friendly and the food was as good as the menu promised.
So when we got an email through offering a table on New Year’s Eve for £30 a head we jumped at the chance and booked. The whole evening was a bit of disappointment, to be honest. Even though the restaurant was relatively quiet it took 45 minutes for our starters to come out (by which time we’d already finished one bottle of wine and frankly, were a bit past caring about the food), and then waited nearly as long for mains which were a bit disappointing. My sea bass was okay, but the tiny portion was full of bones and the crab crust made it difficult to catch them before you put them in your mouth, resulting in a bit of embarrassing hiding behind the napkin and fishing them out.
The desserts were disappointing too and to add insult to injury, we were charged £35 a head, not the promised £30. I emailed several times afterwards but never received a response.
But then, just when we’d given up hope, a new General Manager appeared on the scene. He’d read our email, he said, and would we please come back for a meal ‘on the house’ so he could show us what the restaurant could really do? ‘Too right’, we said, leaping at the chance in an ungainly fashion.
And I’m happy to report that John (who is lovely, and very passionate about his food) has totally turned the place around. For one, it was packed (always a good sign), not just with diners but with people just in for a drink, giving the place a delightful background burble of happy conversation and chinking glasses. The menu is still fabulous – the Death Wish Dude and his dad were delighted to discover that the whitebait was still on the menu – and I was happy to see that John tries hard to source a lot of his produce locally (obviously not the whitebait, unless they came from the Grand Union Canal…). They also have creative gluten-free options.
My starter of bubble and squeak was topped with a perfectly poached egg and some delicious crispy pancetta, and was smothered in creamy hollandaise. It was absolutely massive, but that didn’t stop me polishing off the whole thing. The whitebait, I am assured, was delicious too.
For our mains, the Death Wish Dude and English Dad went for 28 day dry-aged Aberdeen Angus sirloin steaks which were cooked perfectly to order and were melt-in-the-mouth tender. The Prof went for beer-battered North Sea haddock, generously served with nice fat chips and a creamy pea and mint purée. All yummy. I went for the slow-roasted pork belly with a sweet potato dauphinoise, parsnip crisps and apple sauce. It was absolutely delicious, with tender flesh that pulled away in gorgeous flakes and an amazingly crisp crackling. Top drawer.
We were really a bit stuffed for the desserts, but the boys managed to force down a few of the ice cream flavours. All in all, we were delighted, and although we only paid for the drinks, we agreed that we would happily have paid for the whole lot. The service was friendly and attentive and John was around to give advice on the compact but very interesting wine list. We’ll definitely be back. Maybe even en famille. Brace yourself, John.
The Village Gate is in the beautiful Chiltern village of Wendover in Buckinghamshire. If you pop in, tell them English Mum sent you. Thanks to John and his staff.
Firstly can I just say that I hate Ryanair? Hate, hate, hate Ryanair. I know, I know, it’s dirt cheap and all that, but when you’ve walked miles, queued for hours and then find you can’t sit anywhere near your children in a hot, sweaty cabin and there’s no room in the overheads for your hand luggage? Grrr, I could kill that feckin’ Michael O’Leary.
Awwww, we had such a lovely time. We went out for dinner with the Disreputable One when we arrived on the Friday night (after he picked us up from the airport in his swanky new 4×4 – thanks Dad!), then stayed at me Ma’s for the weekend. Arriving in the pub before the wedding was fantastic, seeing all my friends and family, my much-missed sisters in law, my lubly brothers, my beautiful nieces and big strapping nephew was just amazing. The church service was surprisingly emotional although I have to say that it was the adults that did the naughty giggling – the kids all stood together and shot us withering glances as we misbehaved – it was Hubby’s fault, he did silly singing, and then some little teeny girl went ‘I WANT A WEE!’ in a really loud voice which set us all off again. All went swimmingly apart from some rather bizarre parental goings on (note to my parents: I love you both madly but jaysus, go out for a coffee together and sort yourselves out already).
Mrs M looked absolutely stunning in a slinky green silk fishtail dress – I don’t care what anyone says there wasn’t a single pair of eyes that weren’t glued to her fantastically peachy bottom as she walked down the aisle.
The evening bash was full of fun and laughter. We had a total riot and the boys had loads of fun with their cousins. Mad Uncle A behaved himself (almost) – actually, Sensible Uncle I was just as naughty – and Mrs Sensible was challenging Hubby to down shots of Mrs M’s traditional 80% proof fire-water. Wow, it took your taste buds clean off.
Moon gave the longest, most boring speech I’ve ever heard (nah, not really – he made me cry twice which is probably a record) and then we all clinked glasses and shouted ‘Nastrovya!’ and downed the traditional Slovakian shot things (wow!) before stuffing our faces at the buffet, then dancing the night away. The Slovakian contingent held their own admirably in both the drinking and the falling over on the dance floor, but in true English fashion, it was all wrapping up by midnight – in Ireland we’d only just be getting started!
We rounded off a manic but happy weekend with one of my Ma’s epic Sunday lunches and then it was back to the airport with our Disreputable Chauffeur for another wrestle with our hand luggage. We arrived home, tired but elated, to find an ecstatic Bert who sang us a little whiny song, he was so happy to see us.
Highlights of the weekend, then:
- Stealing me Ma’s car and rushing round to my friend J’s beautiful new house to catch a glimpse of scrumptious little J and her new baby, M, who I’ve never even seen – we both stood and burst into tears, which made us laugh.
- My mate, C, taking the time to pop to the church to wish Moon luck and say a quick hello to me and Hubby (I wanted to cry again – I’m getting old, I think)
- The photographer shouting ‘No! look at her face!’ when Moon’s gaze kept wandering downwards
- My nieces, who have turned from cute little girls into beautiful young ladies.
- Above-mentioned niece, A, being bribed by Sensible Uncle I’s mates to balance sachets of mayonnaise on the head of Moon’s brother-in-law who was asleep in the corner after coming over all ‘tired and emotional’
- Boogying on the dance floor with my boys, me Ma, Mrs M and a gaggle of her Slovakian mates
- The scary amount of people who came up to me and said ‘ooh, I read your blog!’
- Moon, staggering around with a box of Montecristo cigars saying ‘this is the happiest day of my life’ in a somewhat slurry fashion.
So there you have it. A lovely weekend, a perfect wedding, and a very deserving couple. Here’s to you, Moon and Mrs M: wishing you a long, happy and very giggly life together. Mwah!
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