Book review: Around the World with the Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure

ingreedies-main-photo

When I was asked to review this recipe book for children, I was in two minds. My children are firm believers that if they’ve not eaten something a hundred times before or if it isn’t coated in breadcrumbs then that’s their cue for a bout of overdramatic gagging.

But then I thought: Goddammit! Thou shalt eat foods that aren’t yellow! One day we shalt go on holiday and you shalt eat something other than chips!

My kids aren’t unique or peculiar, their foodie horizons are just limited like those of thousands of other stubborn pint-sized stick-in-the-muds out there. It’s this that the couple who created Around the World with the Ingreedies, Zoë Bather and Joe Sharpe, are cleverly trying to address.

This isn’t just another cookbook for kids that persuades them to eat by making faces with tomatoes or sailing boats from stale bread. This is a beautiful, imaginative book packed with geographical foodie facts and exciting recipes and ideas. Chris Dickason’s illustrations of the Ingreedie characters will take you right back to the 1980s and Pedro Orange and Merv Marrow in the Munch Bunch books.

Aesthetically, the book won me over as soon as I opened it. In practice? I was sceptical. There needed to be a taste test. To do this I asked my kids to pick a recipe and then pitted them against the book’s ‘Mealtime Manifesto’.

australia-page

“We think family mealtimes should be fun. There’s a wealth of exciting dishes out there that the whole family can enjoy together”

Agree. Who wants to spend an hour banging their head against a brick wall telling their kids to eat their broccoli? This book certainly has a range of dishes that I’d be happy to eat – with or without the kids. The issue we had was finding something we could “enjoy together” because the youngest taste buds in our house only want fifty shades of bland. My little darlings refused to try anything in the book other than the Australian Fusion Burgers (minus the chilli of course).

“The book is full of fascinating food facts from around the world, along with a recipe for each country we visit”

Absolutely. This is far more than just a recipe book (there are only 13 recipes included). The pages are packed with facts, maps and information – and humour (think Richard Scarry). Did you know that Napoleon asked for his bread to be made long and thin so his soldiers could carry it down their trousers? Is that a baguette down your trousers, Claude, or are you just pleased to see me?

chopping-vegetables

“We don’t expect kids to like everything they’re given to eat. But we do believe if you tell them about the history and culture of food, it will inspire them to try something new”

Predictably, my kids didn’t like the burgers. I’m not sure knowing the “recipe fuses the flavours of Thailand with the famous Aussie meal – the barbeque” inspired them, but at least they tried the tiniest fleck. Mummy was of course wise enough to have bought some plain bulk standard burgers in anticipation of this.

australian-fusion-burgers

“We want to encourage the next generation to become inventive, passionate cooks, and leave them with a greater love and understanding of food”

We had great fun cooking together and the recipes were easy to follow. Ultimately, the recipes may be a little too adventurous for kids like mine. But you know what? If it gets kids enjoying the creative process of cooking, who cares if you end up having to substitute their food with something less exciting (and probably yellow). It’s about setting in place skills for the future and leaving their minds open (or at least slightly ajar) to the potential for a world beyond cheesy strings.

In short, a fabulous book that looks great and is fun to read. If you know any children with even slightly more culinary balls than mine, then you won’t go too far wrong buying them a copy for Christmas.

Around the World with the Ingreedies – A Taste Adventure is published by Laurence King Publishing, £12.99, ISBN 9781780678290.

Period policies : a woman’s friend or foe?

Period policy at work

It seems that a forward-thinking company in Bristol is planning to put in place a ‘period policy’. It would to allow women to take time off work during their period, thus boosting  overall productivity and efficiency. The director of the company claims it will help synchronise work with the body’s natural cycles.

*splutters tea over laptop*

It’s all very admirable. Unless you think it’s just plain balls.

Whatever next? Paid leave for bouts of hysteria? Pregnant women being turned away from the office and forced into confinement until their child is delivered into the arms of a wet nurse? Tying underperforming female colleagues to a ducking stool? Well goodbye 21st century and hello Dark Ages.

I have several problems with something that proposes “a radically new model of the menstrual cycle as an asset for your entire organisation”. (Just imagine if that popped up as the title of a Powerpoint presentation at work!)

1. Yawn, another stigmatising nod to de-stigmatisation

Yes, periods can bloody hurt. They can leave you doubled up, nauseous and feeling like you’re at death’s door. Of course they’re not an illness and we all know how women can still roller skate, swim, ride bikes and dance in tight-fitting white lycra when the decorators are in, don’t we? Far from de-stigmatising periods, the special treatment proposed by the ‘period policy’ is just that: special treatment – and not in the positive sense. It seems to be yet another way to demarcate women and highlight their ‘difference’ in the workplace.

Please let’s not lumber women with another ‘weakness’ that sets them one step behind their non-menstruating, non-child-bearing colleagues. But, I hear you cry, the article says that the “spring section of the cycle immediately after a period is a time when women are actually three times as productive as usual” – surely we can harness that? In reality, would a business really wait for your period to pass?

“Oh, don’t talk to Beryl – she’s got her period. Give that important client to someone else. Beryl’s just not that creative when she’s on the blob … No, the client won’t wait. But don’t worry, there will be another less important client for Beryl when she’s back to her normal self. Bless her.”

2. Isn’t this unfair on men and anyone else who regularly feels a bit yucky?

Most men don’t do the period thing (and obviously not in the literal sense). I can clear my husband from a room by tossing an unused, wrapped tampon at him – they’re like kryptonite to his Spider-Man. Integrating menstruation into the workplace (another Powerpoint title for you there) isn’t going to happen. Why expect men to suddenly start feeling comfortable talking about menstruation around the water cooler? From a woman’s perspective, I wouldn’t want everyone knowing or assuming I’d got my period. Not because of any stigma but because it’s personal. In the same way I wouldn’t want the whole office knowing if my bowel movements had been a bit loose that morning. Most importantly, I’d hate for people to feel they had to treat me differently.

Interestingly, an article in the Telegraph last year reported on a study which found than 25% of British men believe they have a monthly ‘man period’. Should they be let in on the ‘period policy’ too then? Whilst we’re at it, I’d also like to put my hand up for a ‘migraine policy’ please. And perhaps a ‘my kids have been up all night puking policy’. It’s only fair.

3. Shouldn’t it be about better workplace policies generally?

This shouldn’t be about new-fangled workplace policies. If someone feels they cannot take some time off when they feel genuinely unable to perform at work, then there is a problem with the culture of their company. If “when women are having their periods they are in a winter state, … they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies” then sort out flexible working policies and let them work from home beneath a humongous hot water bottle. If employers treat their employees well and meet needs where they can, then they will be rewarded with loyalty, productivity and creativity – it doesn’t matter one jot whether the employee is male or female.

I’m sure some women would say I’ve completely missed the point. Perhaps the article caught me at the wrong time of the month. Maybe my body temperature was 0.5 degrees too high to be able to appreciate how truly bloody brilliant the idea of a ‘period policy’ is. I hope for the sake of that business in Bristol that their female employees aren’t all on the same cycle. As the tumbleweed blows through the office they’ll have time to discuss the wisdom of the policy, if they can make themselves heard over the sound of men rubbing their hands together in glee.

Confessions of a spanking good half term

Chips photo

As I get more and more school holidays under my belt, I feel less of a need to justify why we didn’t conquer Mount Everest or deliver newborn lambs in half term week. Bloggers write an awful lot about their guilt in order to seek reassurance from their peers and be a Better Parent. Mostly it’s self-flagellation. It’s not about the well-being of the kids: it’s about measuring yourself on the yardstick of perfection that is waved in our faces by the internet and social media. It’s time to grab that yardstick and snap it in half.

Let me tell you this: what you’re about to read wasn’t written to make myself feel better. It was written to make you feel better – to let you know that it’s okay. Really, it’s alright if you didn’t take a photo of your kids frolicking in snowdrops and apply Instagram’s Vintage filter with a smidgeon of a vignette. (Vintage because that makes life look retro and kids were so much happier in the olden days when they could race across open fields and only return home for tea, etc, etc, blah blah blah.)

It’s time to stop using other people’s Facebook timelines as a must-do-or-I’ve-failed guide to activities to cram into the school holidays. Your children will not be disadvantaged in their future life if you choose iPad time over roller skating the Inca Trail. Another episode of Paw Patrol will not cast them onto the educational scrapheap. (Many apps are highly educational and played alongside Candy Crush and Panda Pop will balance your child out as comfortably mediocre.)

Here’s a fancy infographic for you. It’s the first time I’ve done one and I can reassure you that no children were harmed in the time it took me to do it. They were not knocking over pans of boiling water or sticking their fingers in plug sockets as they revelled unsupervised.

half-term-infographic-copy

There you have it. I’ve done my little bit to make parents feel moderately better. (And that’s only half term – just think of what you won’t achieve in the summer holidays!) If I were to now fall off the sofa and die, the old Cheerio in the rug that I inhale with my last breath would be utterly worth it.

Help – my child wants a hamster!

Pet hamsters for children

Egads! My 7-year-old wants a proper pet. Not a kitten or a puppy – we’ve come out the other side of her dog phase with thankfully nothing but the ability to spell Chihuahua. She wants a pet hamster. We’re not completely new to pets having had goldfish for a while. We’ve done the fish naming, the renaming, the wearing off of the novelty, the renaming (again), the dying, the crying and the burying in the back garden. But a hamster? That’s a proper bona fide pet with personality.

No disrespect to the fish. They need more care than I ever imagined or indeed signed up to. Long gone are the days you could win a goldfish at the fair and simply pop it in a bowl of tap water with a bit of gravel. In favour of fish, their tank has a filter to keep it clean between my irregular interventions with a siphon and we enjoy a pretty hands-off relationship. Hamsters, on the other hand, require handling. They wee in jars and trample it through the cage on their knobbly paws, finger painting with their own urine. They poo tiny pellets that are – to us short-sighted folk – undistinguishable from sock fluff until you give them a little squeeze or sniff. Hamsters bite, escape, demand a never-ending supply of sunflowers seed and toilet rolls and get wet tail.

Despite all this, we’ve not said ‘no’ to welcoming a furry friend into our home. We were already resigned to the fact it was going to happen before my daughter found this ‘helpful’ video on YouTube:


 

The advice in the video explains some unusual behaviour we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, namely my daughter’s sudden interest in being helpful. Our first thought was that pocket money was the motivating force, but we were one step behind: responsible behaviour + chores = pocket money = BUY OWN HAMSTER, SO THERE. There had been warning signs. The jar next to her bed labelled ‘money for hamster’ is perhaps something we should have taken more seriously.

Thanks to the internet she’s done her research. (And all without inadvertently stumbling upon anything relating to Richard Gere.) In fact, she’s become a veritable hamster guru. Her friend took me aside before a recent playdate and asked not to be made to watch hamster videos – it’s a fine line between guru and bore. Did you know that mesh wheels are bad for hamsters’ feet? No, nor did I. Did you know that it’s good to feed a hamster cucumber on a car journey to keep it hydrated? No, nor did I. Neither did I envisage that we’d be taking our hamster in a car with enough regularity or for such a distance that we’d need to worry about Hammy shrivelling up.

There, it has a name. Hammy. It’s practically boxed up and on its way out of the pet shop now. But we wouldn’t call it something as unoriginal as Hammy. My daughter had something in mind a bit more Kardashian, a bit more Hollywood: Sadness. (She has also earmarked the names Misery and Silence for her children. And I was surprised when she asked for a wall in her bedroom to be painted black?) Fortunately, Auntie Jackie, the other all-knowing hamster guru in our family, successfully vetoed Sadness and so Precious is now top of the list. Clearly, a good old-fashioned human name isn’t what the modern hamster aspires to. What psychological damage did I do to Oscar, Amy and Henrietta, the hamsters of my own childhood?

I owned several hamsters. They live such a short time, it’s amazing how many you can cram in if you don’t mourn too long. They were all loved and well looked after but strangely they still haunt me. When stressed, most people dream about being chased or sitting in an exam they’ve not revised for. I dream about having forgotten to clean out the hamster. A mere whiff of worry and hello hamster anxiety dream. That’s deep psychological damage I’m about to unearth.

Here’s hoping hamster ownership doesn’t prove to be a nightmare.

 

 

 

Stretching the maternal elastic

Child standing on beach

“When your youngest starts school you’ll get really broody.” That’s what people told me and I expected them to be right. Just when you think you’ve passed on your last babygro, there comes a niggle inside that makes you want to snatch it back. As the weeks ticked down to my son starting school, I was anticipating a hollowness that I’d need to fill. It turns out that the reality was quite different. I wasn’t losing my baby boy after all – I was learning to share him.

My eldest started school shortly before her 5th birthday – the oldest in her academic year and, without doubt, ready to be there. Her brother, however, seemed far from prepared to start his journey. Still chubby-cheeked and throwing monumental tantrums, he was my baby and doomed (sorry, son) to be preserved as such. It wasn’t about their difference in age though. Let’s be honest, it was all about my apron strings and how ready I was to cut my son loose (or at least to accept he would only be hanging on with one hand whilst the other hand busied itself with growing up).

I’ve mummied and (s)mothered him. I’m not ashamed to admit that. He’s an unabashed mummy’s boy (although show me a boy who isn’t) and could never, ever cope in the big, wide world without his mamma at his side. Or so I told myself.

Then came his first day at school. I didn’t need to be dragged from the classroom door. I wasn’t beating my chest or producing reams of tissues from my pockets. The world didn’t end. When my son stepped through the classroom door, he clutched his bag and his water bottle like a little man, not a baby. It was then I knew that letting him go was for his own good. For four years I had kept him to myself, not wanting to believe he could function without me. It’s hard to accept that you need to share those you love to help them grow, even if that might mean them growing away from you.

We’ve reached the end of the first half term and my son is well on his way. We’ve each had tears. For me, it was when I dressed him in his uniform for the first time. For him, it was the day when his new best friend didn’t arrive at school. Seeing your child locked into the education system is daunting when they are only 4 years old, can barely get themselves out of a jumper and are borderline self-sufficient bottom-wipers.

Have his new adventures stopped him being a mummy’s boy? Of course not. I’ll be defending my right to keep the maternal elastic taut for many years to come. (One day I’ll have to share him with his future partner – a thought that already makes me bristle.) He still comes into our bed every night. I’m still his first port of call for cuddles, back rubs and – more frequently than I’d like – bottom-wiping.

Sharing him with the world has made it even more precious when he comes back to me. He exists and thrives without me. However hard it is to see him do that with the help of others and without me, he is learning to be his own man.