Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The MAD Blog Awards Finalists Carnival - Best Blog Writer and Best Baby Blog categories

MAD Blog Awards 2011I don't know if you've noticed the badge in my sidebar, but I've been nominated as a finalist in The MADs, blog awards that recognise the best in mum and dad blogging. I'm a finalist in the Post of the Year category for this post, and voting is open for the final award winners.

So I'm hosting part of a carnival to showcase the work of the finalists in every category. I have been asked to feature all the finalists in two categories - Best MAD Blog Writer and Best MAD Baby Blog. The finalists themselves have chosen a post that they like, to represent their blog and what it's all about.

Firstly, let's look at the Best MAD Blog Writer category. To me, great writing is vital to a great blog. It's what keeps me coming back to a blog again and again. The power of the right words educate, inform and entertain us - and sometimes, it moves us too. The work of the five finalists manage all this and more, with apparent ease.

The first finalist is More Than Just A Mother. Emily's posts range from the laugh-out-loud funny to the incredibly moving.  The post she has chosen is both beautiful and poignant, reflecting on the parallels between the grief she feels with the frosts that coincide with the anniversary of her son's death. It's a short but incredibly powerful piece.

Next is Metal Mummy, whose blog covers a hugely broad range of subject matters and hosts a weekly movie meme. True to form, Hannah has chosen a recent post about their holiday to Turkey, which has just about everything or, as Hannah sums it up in the title, Houdini,dead fish and big water, reflecting that chaos that can be going on holiday with a two year old!

Moving on now to Sleep is for the Weak. Josie's posts are always a joy to read because they are always so descriptive and beautifully written.  I just love the post that Josie has submitted to the carnival - it's a letter to her son, Kai, on his second birthday, telling him of the pride, amazement and wonder she feels about being his mother and having him in her life. Absolutely beautiful.

Then, there is Doing It All About Aleyna, written by the mother of a 5 year old girl with special needs about the ups and downs of their lives. Her post is called Bridesmaidzilla, which tells of her fears that Aleyna's sudden phase of shouting out rude words randomly, just 10 days before she was due to be bridesmaid at a friend's wedding, would upstage the bride and groom. It's a light-hearted piece, but still her immense pride in her special daughter shines through.

Finally, in this category, is Blog Up North. Garry blogs about his life as a parent and school governor, and a big feature of his blog is the love of his life, music. Here, Garry writes an open letter to Wayne Rooney after he (Rooney) swore into a camera on live television. He avoids the trap of abusing Rooney and instead speaks father to father in a brilliantly written piece.

That's all the finalists in the Best MAD Blog Writer category and I'm sure you'll agree, the competition is pretty tough. Let's move now onto the Best MAD Baby Blog category - for blogs featuring babies under 12 months.

Well, I say featuring - the first finalist in this category is, in fact, a baby blogger. Leon McCarthy is just a few months old - so it's quite an achievement to become a finalist in the Best MAD Baby Blog category with the journal of the first year of his life. Leon sent me a post about his mummy trying real nappies and of being relegated to the dining room with his daddy when mummy has a girl's night at home!

Next up is Edspire. Jennie blogs about her twins Esther and William who were born 3 months premature in July 2010. Her blog started off as a record of their stay in NICU and is now a record of the twins' lives. Esther chose a post that has a lot of meaning to her  - it's a letter to Esther and William that she wrote and read to them every day that they were in NICU. I just love the story of the marriage proposal - so romantic!

And then there's Bloggomy. Louise has children aged 19, 11 and 9 as well as a baby aged 7 months and her blog reflects the diversity of challenges that this presents. Product reviews are a strong feature of Louise's blog so she has chosen to feature a product review in the carnival. This review, for a teething necklace and pendant, features some seriously cute photos of Tala, her 7 month old son road testing the products.

Moving on again, we next have Diary of the Dad. Tom blogs about his life as a new dad to his son Dylan and the bewildering journey that any new parent takes. In his post for the carnival, Tom reports on some of the milestones that Dylan has reached - not all of them welcome, I think.

Finally, in this category, we have Mother's Always Right. Molly, who writes the blog about life as a mother to her baby girl Frog, used to be a journalist. Molly's post for the carnival tells the tale of how she had been diligently teaching Frog to clap - only to have her thunder stolen at Baby Sensory.

That's all the entrants in the Best MAD Baby Blog category - again, a great set of finalists and hard to choose between them. You have until 14th June to vote for your favourite blogs, if you haven't already. If you want to vote, then please visit the MADs website here and fill out the form. You can vote in as many categories as you like, but remember you can only vote once so you need to choose everyone that you're going to vote for in one go. You could be a while...

You can find the main carnival post where you can find the posts covering all the other categories here.

Thanks for reading and I'd like to end by wishing all the finalists I've featured the very best of luck. There can only be one winner in each category so congratulations on getting to this stage from all the hundreds of blogs out there.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Meal Planning Monday - with a difference!

This week, my meal plans are a bit different. This is because this week, my meal planning and shopping have been done for me! I'm taking part in the Sainsbury's Feed your family for £50 campaign which includes a week's meal plan to feed four people three meals a day for £50. On Friday, absolutely piles of food turned up  and I can verify that they indeed cost around £50. The total cost was actually around £57 but deduct the £5.50 delivery charge and the £2 odd extra cost for some substitutions, the cost was £50.55. My fridge is now packed to the rafters!

Another reason I've been sent the food is so we can film ourselves making one of the meals, and the footage might get used in their ads that are running during Britain's Got Talent. However, in order to meet the deadline, we've already done that on Sunday. I'm not going to stick to the meal plan religiously so that it works for us and our lifestyle. In addition, the rest of the family might be going camping for a couple of days so I might be making some of the dishes for me or postponing them for a day. So, here, based on Sainsbury's meal plan is my plan for this week:

Monday - Tuna, mushroom and mozzarella pasta bake
Tuesday - Roasted vegetables with chicken and rice
Wednesday - Tomato, spinach and red onion frittata
Thursday - Sweet and sour chicken
Friday - Spaghetti carbonara
Saturday - left free
Sunday - Roast pork, roast potatoes, carrots and broccoli

(If you haven't already guessed, we filmed ourselves making sausage, tomato and cannellini pot with mash)

I think that's not a bad mix. They have included enough to make a cooked breakfast at weekends, and sandwiches or pittas for lunch mostly. The £50 is a lot of food, mostly from their basics range but it's all good fresh and healthy food. Possibly a little too healthy - as there are no treats included, not even small ones. Also, it includes no drinks at all, nor any cleaning products or toiletries. As my approximately £50 weekly food bill  includes these things, I don't think I am doing bad at all! The site includes tips for small variations or for making some of the dishes veggie so it's worth a look, even if it's just to get some ideas.

Come back next week to see how we got on with it!

Why not pop over to Mrs M's blog for more meal planning entries?

Talking to Mark Hix - on food and (prawn) cocktails

Following shortly after I got to interview Gino D'Acampo, I was offered the chance to interview Mark Hix. You might not know who he is but I do! He used to be chef director of the group that runs The Ivy, that favourite celebrity haunt. A few years ago, he left to set up his own chain of restaurants, now in 3 sites across London and one in Lyme Regis. I first came across Mark Hix when watching Great British Menu in 2007. His food was simple, but stunning. His competitor in the heats thought his main course - a rabbit and crayfish stargazey pie - was "pub grub" but both that and another dish featured in the final banquet. I would have loved to have met Mark in person but it wasn't possible to arrange, so this interview took place with the wonders of mobile phones and conference calls. I started by asking Mark about a new dish he's created for his restaurant in Selfridges in conjunction with Bird's Eye. 

Tell me about the Emperor Prawn Cocktail  you’ve created - what’s different about it?

The focus is on high quality ingredients. I used Birds Eye Emperor Prawns as they are frozen very quickly and are very meaty so they are a high quality product  - a bit like frozen peas; because they are frozen so quickly, you can guarantee the quality which you can’t with fresh.

Apart from that, I use high quality ingredients to make a really good prawn cocktail – crisp lettuce, a high quality tomato ketchup and mayonnaise but I’ve also added a bit of horseradish, Tabasco and a little Pernod to the sauce.

Why did you decide to get involved with Bird’s Eye and create the dish?

Everyone loves a prawn cocktail. Back in the 70s and 80s, it was a classic dish so it was good to take the Emperor Prawns and turn it into something high quality, it’s really popular with the customers.

Lots of mums mentioned your Eat Up! Book and how good it is. One of my twitter followers even asked me to thank you for it.

Yes, I get a lot of positive comments about it. It was the first book I published. What I wanted to do was show that adults and children could eat the same things – perhaps with a little bit of adaptation for the children, but that adults didn’t have to cook separate meals for their children.

Did you cook much with your children when they were younger? (He has twin girls)

Yes, I think that’s quite important as it helps to get children to eat proper food.

What sort of things would you cook with them?

Risotto – because that’s an excellent dish for children, and fish fingers – actually, fish fingers is our biggest seller in the restaurants. We make it with sustainable fish like pollock or coley and we serve them with some nice mushy peas and chips.

A chef's lifestyle is not really conducive to a healthy lifestyle. What do you do to stay fit?

I don’t really do anything. I eat fairly healthily – a lot of people who work in kitchens can abuse their diet and not eat a very good diet.  I’m not a health freak or anything – I think it’s about balancing it out.

What type of food do you most like to eat when it’s not you cooking?

It really depends on my mood. Food is all about moods. So I might like some Asian or Indian, something with a bit of spice. Or it might be fish.

What do you think of the standard of restaurant food in this country, both in London and outside?

Well, we’re lucky in London, it’s said to be one of the gastronomic capitals of the world along with New York and Paris. There’s over a hundred different cuisines available. It has improved over the last 10 years. In terms of cooking, I think we’re ahead of the French now. Even beyond London, it’s improved a lot – even in pubs, you can get good food now. There’s still a lot of bad too but that happens everywhere.

What are your favourite restaurants?

My friend has a place called Viet Grill in London.  And places like River Cafe – both are just really good, with no fuss.

You don’t really like the fine dining experience then? 

No. It’s fine but it’s really only for special occasions and it’s not something you can eat all the time. Really good food you can eat any time is what I like.

How do you relax when you’re not working?

Fishing – in fact, I’m off to the coast this weekend to do some fishing.

Mark Hix has created a modern twist on the classic prawn cocktail dish using Birds Eye’s new Emperor King Prawns. The Emperor Prawn Cocktail is on the menu at HIX Restaurant and Champagne Bar, Selfridges during Project Ocean. Emperor King Prawns are Birds Eye’s biggest and juiciest king prawns; cooked in their shell to retain more flavour and succulence and then peeled and frozen within two and a half hours to maximise taste and freshness. http://www.birdseye.co.uk

(I have not been paid for this interview.)

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Kate goes to London part 1 - Disney Store, Oxford Street

I've just come back from London (which translates as I came home on Thursday but have just managed to unpack everything, find the kitchen and the living room floor, and generally catch up on things I need to do). The main purpose I'll reveal in part two but as I knew I was going to London on a trip, when an email arrived inviting me to a preview of the new Disney Store in Oxford Street on the very afternoon I arrived, it seemed too much of an opportunity to pass up. Unfortunately, Monkey and Missy Woo had to stay home to go to school, especially as it was their sports day, so I got to look at it all by myself.

Not even Virgin Trains could keep me away. Despite the late running of my train, having to buy a tube ticket whilst balancing a trolley case and handbag and negotiating the crush that is Oxford Circus tube station all conspiring against me, I made it there only 3 minutes after the appointed time. This new store is double the size of the previous store and runs over two floors, making it the largest Disney store in Europe. After a brief chat and a drink, we were allowed to explore the store in detail. And wow, it really is something else. This is not just a shop. It's an experience.

As soon as you enter, you can't fail to notice the 28ft (that's about 9 metres in new money) high Princess Castle onto which they project custom made animation which dominates the staircase. Missy Woo would have been entranced as she is a big Princess fan. Upstairs is mainly focussed on boy stuff - including a Cars Ridemakerz area where children can customise and race cars. That's Monkey sold right there. There's also some London memorabilia given a Disney Twist. (Think Mickey Mouse!). There's some Pirates of the Caribbean things too but mine aren't showing an interest in that just yet. Mark Kermode will be pleased.

Downstairs is more of a girlie haven. There is a Princess Magic Mirror and the various princesses appear to tell their own stories when you wave wands or move your arms in front of the mirror. Missy Woo would have been spellbound. There's also a theatre with a big screen where children can watch clips from films or trailers but will also host a whole range of events throughout the day. The store is the first to have an Entertainment Manager with a team of TEN Cast Members (that's staff to you and me) whose job it is just to work on these events.

Other features includes these new recruits to the Palace Guards.

Hmm, where have I seen them before?

All around the store, there are trees lining the paths around the merchandise. Again, they have animations projected onto them which will change with the season, and when they have special events running.

Disney very kindly gave me a voucher to spend, which I used to buy some pyjamas for the children and some novelty plates. They also gave me a goody bag to take away including Minnie Mouse dressed as a Queen, a Mickey Mouse Union Jack notebook and a map showing London locations featured in their films.

Even if you can't afford to buy anything in store (and I admit that I do find a lot of their merchandise quite expensive although it is possible to find some things that represent good value), this is worth a visit for the experience alone. The attention to detail is really second to none - as you would expect from Disney - and pretty much any child would find it magical. You might get pestered beyond belief to buy this toy and that one but you'd probably enjoy the experience too.

As I left, with extra Disney goody bag to add to the handbag and trolley case I was already juggling, people approached me and asked if they could go in. I had to tell them it wasn't open until the day after and their look was a mixture of jealousy and disappointment. Everyone was stopping to try to get a look but they would have had a job getting past the security on the door!

If you get the chance, do pay a visit.

Goody bag and purchases!
The Disney Store is now open at 350 Oxford Street.

Disney gave me a  £25 voucher to spend in store and a goody bag. I have not received any other compensation. I was not required to write a blog post in exchange for the above. The opinions and words are my own and have not been influenced by the aforementioned compensation. 

Kate goes to London part 2 will be along soon enough. 

Friday, 27 May 2011

My children don't know how lucky they are...so I'm passing it on

.. and that's not a criticism of them. They are 6 and 4 - how can they know that other children aren't as lucky as them? That they don't have a toy, let alone piles of them? That they don't get sweets, or sometimes food? Oh, and that they don't have access to water that is clean and safe, that doesn't make them ill when they drink it?

Health. It is something that they also take for granted. They don't understand that they are lucky to be well most days. That most regular diseases that could have killed them as young children are almost eradicated. That we have effectively palatial living conditions that despite the grubby nature, is clean and largely free of pathogens.

They don't know how lucky they are to have had immunisations to protect them from many killer diseases. They may not have felt lucky when sharp needles pierced their young flesh and squeezed a mystery liquid into their blood stream, although the sweets and stickers might have been worth it. But no, they don't know that because of those injections, their chances of reaching adulthood largely illness free are so much higher than children in developing countries.

But wait a minute. Is it a case that they are lucky, or the other children are unlucky not to have had their vaccinations? If my children, when adults, met someone from one of those countries - say, Mozambique - who suffered pain and poor health from childhood diseases as a result of NOT having those vaccinations, could they look them in the eye and say it was right that they were lucky? That it was right that they were UNlucky? All through an accident of where they were born?

It's not fair, is it? Truly, honestly, it's utterly unfair. But even today, 1 in 5 children receive no immunisation against killer diseases. At all. Save the Children are campaigning heavily to put pressure on world leaders who are meeting in London in June at the Global Vaccines Summit to get them to fund vaccines fully and stop this awful statistic - 25,000 children die every day, and a good proportion are entirely preventable.

To highlight this, the lovely Chris from Thinly Spread with two other bloggers, is going to Mozambique this weekend to follow a vaccine on its journey from the city to a rural community to see how it gets there intact - a challenge when it needs to be kept cold. It's going to be an incredible experience and one that will show HOW the GVS can make a difference if they put their collective minds to it.

Chris's journey will have added impact if we all add our voices to the campaign. We can't all go to Mozambique, but we can support the cause. Paula from Battling On came up with a great idea. It's called The Gift Tag.

Here's what you do:

1) Click here and sign the petition to save four million children’s lives

2) Click here to download your Pass It On gift tag

3) Print it, sign it and Pass it On, and on, and on, and on……

THEN you can either:

a) Blog about it, you can link back here or lift the instructions and place them on your own blog – doesn’t matter at all

b) Facebook it – post a pic of your signed Gift Tag to your facebook wall and tag all of your friends to Pass it On

c) Twitter – twitpic it and @ your followers to Pass It On

d) Print it out and Pass it On – to your neighbour, your mum, your local paper, your children’s school, the postman (you get the picture)

I haven't tagged anyone specifically, but if you're reading this and you haven't done this already, please consider yourself tagged.

Ultimately, my children don't know how lucky they are to have their health on top of all the possessions that they have. It doesn't have to be this way. We can change things. The GVS is scheduled to take four hours; in that time, they could make decisions that lead to the saving of 4 million children's lives every year. That's 4 millions fewer mothers deprived of their children by entirely preventable causes. In 4 short hours.

Let's make it happen. And make all children as lucky as mine, and yours. Pass it on, will you?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

My Fitness Story... - Margie

Hello, it's Thursday so that means My Fitness Story is back! This week, I'm delighted to welcome a contribution from Margie. She is the owner of a fabulous website called Greeting Cards on Time. Margie decided to embark on a fitness programme in order to keep up with her family. Her story is a familiar one told by many mothers. I think, like Margie, that it's a myth that becoming a mother keeps you busy and fit! Over now to Margie to tell her story which she has entitled: 

Keeping up with the Kids (or not…)

Fitness is a relative word – I would say I have never been that fit. Compulsory games lessons at school were a nightmare.  I was goalie in lacrosse; in netball, we used to pretend a contact lens had fallen out to suspend play; for tennis lessons, the teacher left me and a small select handful of others hitting a ball against a wire net.  Ghastly and not a way to instil any love of fitness in me.  However, there was a suppressed fitty spark in me wanting to get out…..

Post school and before children, I did get into aerobics for a while – good fun halcyon days when I wore size 10 (which is now probably size 0).  But aerobics and size 10 went with the arrival of husband, dog and children in that order. 

Children, oh how I love them, but they did little for my fitness levels – once they were mobile, walks were impossibly slow.  Then, for several years, we walked the same pace.  However, I realised last year there was a problem when I had to tell not one but two of the girls to slow down so I could keep up.  There wasn’t a train to catch, nor a bus (only one a week round here), but they were off, across that field like the dogs getting back for feed-time.  With me puffing along behind.  I really had to do something.

Time to take action – but what? I am FULL of excuses - Hate running (it makes my knees hurt); hate tennis (my racquet is designed not to hit the ball, anyway it’s out of the ark); not sure of horse riding (where are the brakes?); love skiing (didn’t go this year).  Then KERCHING! The sun came out when a new gym opened without membership fees .  It gave the first session free, then pay as you go, soooo if it was not my thing, I could go and get fit someplace else – a chance to take that longed for action with no financial risk.

I began to go once a week.  I thought Pilates might be a gentle start – huh, well I found muscles where I didn’t know I had any from Pil-a-tes.  Gentle movements? – phah – small, yes; gentle, no.  But it really made me feel good, so I timetabled it into my week.

Then along came 2011.  New Year = resolutions.  Mine this year was to go exercising at least twice per week.  So far so good….. And I’m absolutely loving it.  Yep, it’s hard sometimes to muster the energy to go, but I have done it all year so far and, to me, it’s much easier to keep that record than to break it and then attempt to return to the original resolution.

My middle daughter (20 – just ran a marathon, saints preserve me!) came to a session with me last week. Beforehand, she was smirking about going to Pilates with a whole bunch of middle aged ladies.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not really competitive, just very competitive.  And I do not want to get left behind by my gorgeous girls on things I think I should be able to do.  OK I was a bit economical with the truth, but we went to ‘Bootcamp Circuits’ – the only other participant was a 22 year old.  Ahah, Jo was puffing like a billy goat!  And a newfound respect for the aged parent, I feel!

The result of this fitness?  I definitely feel better for it, though my weight has stayed largely the same.  My muscles are much stronger, meaning fewer aches and pains, and I sit better.  I can slip back into a rather special pair of trousers.  I have more energy and focus (that’s also partly because I am now doing a job I really enjoy – my greetings card business). I have abandoned my osteopath because, lovely as she is, I don’t need her, despite still sitting in front of a computer most days. So I’m saving so much money I feel a pair of shoes would be a good reward.  Yep, my trainers need replacing!!!

Thanks to Margie for telling her story so engagingly today. Again, the changes to Margie's life have not been huge and yet, for some small lifestyle changes, she feels so much better and is even finding that staying fit is saving her money!

Feel free to share experiences, as always, in the comments below. My guest posters really do appreciate the messages of support they get from readers.

If you would like to share your fitness story, then please contact me on Twitter or email me on the address on the About Me page. Posts can be partly or fully anonymous, or if you are happy to be named, I will link back to your blog. All contributions are really appreciated so do get in touch, even if you feel yours is not a worthwhile story. If it's a personal experience, it is. And I mean that even if you have failed at something, because it is still YOUR fitness story and you learned from it. If you want to read previous posts in this series, click on the My Fitness Story... tab above and they are all linked on that page.

Thanks for supporting My Fitness Story... and do come back for another guest post next week.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Gallery - My backyard

So the prompt this week is "My backyard". I could have given you things like my Silent Sunday this week or the previous week, but that would be boring, wouldn't it? They are nice pictures but you've all seen them before. Haven't you? (The correct answer is yes, by the way. Just saying.)

So, instead, I'll give you a picture of my actual backyard. Well, I'm English so it's my back garden, thank you. This house has been my home for getting on for 12 years. It's always had grass which is unusual for a new build - for some reason, they were struggling to sell it so they grassed the back. At one stage, we added a deck at the top of the garden, but then when Monkey was a baby, we had a conservatory built and had flags put across the back of the house. Then a few years ago, the deck was turned into a veg patch. Now, the garden is part play area, part vegetable (and fruit) garden, part outside space for sitting. I still can't believe that we ate  two meals outside on the same day - in April. We're quite high up and the wind does mean that the garden is much much cooler most of the time than down in the town. We even had a frog in our garden a few weeks ago, which also featured in the Gallery.

So, here we are. My backyard in the early evening light. This was taken about 5.30pm on Tuesday. Had the weather not turned nice again today, this would have been a very soggy picture indeed - or a complete no-show from me as we have had rain nearly every day for well over a week.

And of course, constant rain and warm temperature means the grass desperately needs cutting! Oops... try to ignore that. Looking at that picture, I think it looks vaguely cottagey but it's not. We have other people's gardens on three sides. It's just a normal garden in suburbia.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Helicopter mother? I'm more like a space rocket...

I was thinking about this the other day. I have never been described as a helicopter mother and I don't suppose I'm ever likely to be. Don't get me wrong - it's not that I'm a cold and distant mother who doesn't care about her children because that would be so so wrong and I like nothing better than getting hugs from them.

It just means that I see myself as an enabler, rather than their enforcer. If they express an interest in a new activity, I will find it and, if we can afford it, arrange for them to start. In recent weeks, Monkey has started tennis lessons and Missy Woo at ballet, on top of other things they already do. I've found the lessons. I've obtained the basic things they need to do them. I've paid for both. I take them to it. And then, I walk away.

The rest is up to them. I am not an expert in either. Quite the opposite, in fact - I love watching tennis but my own personal hand-eye coordination borders on the rubbish. I don't even tend to hang around - largely because I always have one other child in tow, that I need to amuse or feed. It doesn't help that ballet lessons fall the same day as Monkey goes to football training and the overlap is such that Monkey needs to eat whilst Missy Woo is dancing. All I want is for them to enjoy what they are doing. If they're feeling a bit anti, I normally encourage them and remind them that they will get better with practice which takes time and means more lessons. If I thought they were really not enjoying it, I wouldn't hesitate to stop. But usually the feeling passes when they get there and remember what fun they have.

I know, from the knowing looks shared between certain parents when I turn up to collect one of them from a particular activity, that others do not approve of my leaving my children. But the children don't want me to stay, although Monkey sometimes asks my husband to watch him play football if he takes him. Missy Woo virtually pushes me out the door sometimes. It's not that I am not interested in what they do. It's just that it is their activity, not mine.It will be up to them if they want to take any of those things further. They are both still young, they're learning, and developing their personalities and identities. Doing these things allows them to do that. Do they need me there to do that? I don't think so.

Monkey told me this morning that he wants to be a tennis player when he grows up. I nearly said to him that he'd have the British public on his back if he did that (unless he becomes the next Federer, Nadal or Djokovic of course!). I think it's great that he has that dream, for now. Next week, it could be something else altogether. I'm not about to sell my house or push him to try harder in his lessons, because that would be ridiculous.

I think I'm painting myself as a very neglectful parent. I'm not. They read their school books with us most nights, and do their spellings if they have them. More crucially, they're fed and watered and cared for. I'm just mindful of the need for them to find their own ways. Force a child down one particular route and you risk resentment and them hating it; that's how I see it anyway.

So I do not hover over my children and instead shoot off like a space rocket. I think that means I then go into orbit, circling round invisibly, keeping one eye on them and in a place they can easily find me, should they need me. Does that make me odd? I wonder because I hate the looks I get when I turn up to collect them and some other parents purse their lips, give each other a look and I know I'm being judged.

I hate that. My style might not be right for different children - and I've established before, my two are pretty independent little souls. Surely it's up to me how I choose to raise them? Or am I falling victim to the "mothers can never win" culture that we have adopted? What do you think?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Meal Planning Monday

Lordy, these weeks come around so fast. Last week's plan went largely to it - so well, in fact, I had to scrabble around for something to make today which I managed (chicken and sweetcorn pie if you're wondering).

Onto this week's plan. Here it is.

Monday - Chicken biryani bake (from the freezer)
Tuesday - Sweet and sour lentil dhal with grilled aubergine
Wednesday - Italian meat loaf
Thursday - Courgette and orzo bake
Friday - Mini-burgers and homemade potato wedges
Saturday - Tapas tea (we'll be supporting Barcelona in the Champions League final.
Sunday - Chicken curry

Some new things to try and some easy things - having to make the meatloaf in advance because I am probably away on Wednesday night so I need to make something that can just be placed in the oven.  I am most looking forward to tapas on Saturday. There's no fish this week but I'm trying to empty the freezer to defrost it and have no fish left in it!

Why not pop over to Mrs M's blog for more meal planning entries?

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Review: BubbleBum booster seat

Child car safety is, quite rightly, considered very important today - something that has changed very quickly over the course of a generation. I never had a car seat as a child - even having rear seat belts were considered pretty novel for a long, long time. Nowadays, children under 135cm or the age of 12 must travel in a child car seat unless there aren't seat belts available, something that is increasingly rare these days. Even then, I would never consider letting Monkey and Missy Woo travel in a car without seat belts.

Travelling with children can be quite problematic because of this. I would personally be unhappy putting them in a taxi in a foreign country without seat belts and car seats but it's pretty difficult to book a taxi with a car seat and even booster seats are pretty bulky to carry.

A couple of years ago, I saw that someone had come up with a portable booster seat designed for travel. Of course, it was a mum, Grainne Kelly, who came up with the idea of the BubbleBum booster seat. It's portable, it's foldable, it's inflatable. So it is perfect for travel, or those situations where you need a carseat quickly. It's approved for Group 2 or 3 use - in other words, from about 15kg/33lbs (about 4 years old) right up to the point they don't need a car seat anymore.

I was sent one to try out with the children. The seat is only available in one colour - purple - but they say that 98% of all children chose that colour in tests, although I believe other colours may be available soon. The fact that the children fought over who was going to sit on the BubbleBum suggests this is more than likely to be true.

The seat lived up to the claim that it can be inflated in 30 seconds. You need to use your own puff to blow it up but that is not a problem. It's not large - its 33cmx33cmx11cm - but that makes it perfect for fitting in a third seat across the rear seats in smaller cars. My car is a Focus and we've never been able to fit 3 child seats across the back before but I easily managed this deploying the BubbleBum in the middle seat (we obviously have a 3 point belt there) when one of Monkey's friends to tea one day. The only thing that is a bit fiddly is that it has a seat belt restraint on either side that you need to thread the belt through before securing the belt which made strapping in a bit faffy. That is our only criticism.

I had to use the BubbleBum in the back of my car because it shouldn't be used in the front seat if it has an airbag. Our other car doesn't have a passenger airbag so we could use it in there.

The children loved the BubbleBum so much that I had to hide the seat as there were arguments over it every time we got in the car. As we have had a peaceful few months since we made a decree about who is to sit on which side of the car (seriously), I thought it best to maintain in-car harmony. Still, it is handy - the children like having friends home for tea after school and until now, I've had to remember to borrow another seat from our other car to bring them home. Now, I don't need to.

The BubbleBum is, I think, an excellent product. At £29.99 delivered, it's great value as that's less than the cost of hiring a seat from car rental companies, with the added bonus of being cleaner too. (We hired a baby seat for Monkey in Spain once - ewwww!)

These are definitely handy to have around - you never know when you might suddenly need to transport an extra child at short notice. Although the law does cover emergency situations, I know personally I'd rather make sure any child travelling in my car has the appropriate seats and restraints so they are as safe as possible. A big thumbs up from all of us for the BubbleBum. I just need a second one now so the children will stop fighting over it.

(I was sent a BubbleBum booster seat to review and keep. I have not received any other compensation, I have not been told what to write and all opinions are my own.)

Friday, 20 May 2011

Recipe - Sausage, Bean & Cheese Pasties

I haven't done a recipe in a while so it's time I posted another. I also spied that English Mum was holding another bake-off and this time, you can win a whole fridge freezer. As I need one before our current one dies a death, I thought I'd give it a go.

These pasties are fast becoming a family favourite. What do I mean "becoming"? They already are! Monkey asks for them. They are great food to eat on the run, and work hot or cold. Although they are a bit time-consuming (but not difficult) to make, they can easily be reheated so I tend to make them in advance. And they can be frozen too, which is entirely appropriate given the prize for the bake-off!

Pasties are obviously the original easy to eat anywhere food. These ones are different though - instead of the crust being pastry, it's made from bread dough so really, I guess, they may be technically more like a calzone. But we're not Italian and the filling is definitely British so pasty, it most definitely is. When I first saw the recipe for this, I was intrigued and had to try them out. I'm really glad I did. The result is much lower in fat than a conventional pasty - the original recipe says there are about 350 calories per portion when a standard pasty is more like 500 calories.

This is also quite an economical recipe as none of the ingredients are expensive. Don't get really cheap sausages or they'll just be greasy - I bought some Waitrose essential pork sausages for less than £1 and when cooked, they lost hardly any fat, so they are a decent but inexpensive option. I've tweaked the original recipe somewhat and provide you options for making the dough. In addition, I think the filling only needs one tin of baked beans as I'm always left with quite a lot of filling (or I'm stingy with it but I don't think so) but feel free to add a second tin if you really think it needs it.

Finally, if you wanted to spice these up a bit, I think a dash of Worcester sauce, Tabasco, chilli powder or curry powder would all work well. I reckon also you could vary the cheese for a bit of variety.

These pasties were our tea tonight - Thursday after school is a whirl of activities with Missy Woo having ballet, and Monkey having football so these are great as we can eat in shifts and if I've got my act together, I don't have to do any cooking.

Sausage, Bean & Cheese Pasties
Makes 12


500g/1b 2oz pack bread mix or dough made from 500g/1b 2oz flour
8 sausages or 500g/1lb 2oz sausagemeat
1 420g/15oz can of baked beans
140g/5oz cheddar, grated (we like mature)
1 egg, beaten

1. First, make your dough. Either make up the bread mix according to the packet instructions or use your favourite bread recipe and leave to rise. Alternatively, make the dough in the breadmaker using the dough options. 

2. Whilst that is rising or working in your breadmaker, make your filling. Skin the sausages and roll into about 6 to 8 small meatballs per sausage. Heat a large frying pan and brown the little meatballs, in batches if the pan is too crowded. Drain off any excess fat before returning all of them to then and adding the tin of beans. If you're going to add anything to spice it up, do so now. Stir to combine the filling thoroughly then take the pan off the heat to cool whilst you deal with the dough. 

3. When the dough is ready, heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6 and grease 2 or 3 large baking sheets well. I find I need to tip the dough out onto a workshop to relax the dough slightly for 10-15 mins before using but you may find different. I also think dough from a breadmaker needs a bit of knocking back as there seem to be lots of big bubbles by this stage. 

4. Divide the dough into 12 pieces. Keep the other pieces of dough covered with a tea towel or oiled cling film whilst you roll each piece out into a circle about 17cm/7 in in diameter. I find this a bit challenging so don't worry too much if they won't roll out to that size - the important thing is that they don't tear. 

5. Fill each circle (I fill as I go, you can roll them all out first if you like) with a scoop of the filling and a scattering of cheese. You'll need to put the filling to one side so that you can make the proper D shape that pasties are, but leaving the edge clear. Fold the rest of the dough over, pressing the edges together to seal and crimp together. I find that rolling the edges round makes the most effective seal. Transfer to the oiled baking sheet. You can keep them covered if you like but I find it makes no difference. 

6. Once all the pasties are made, brush with some beaten egg and place in the oven. Cook for 15-20 minutes until they are looking all golden and have risen nicely. Remove from oven and cool slightly on a wire rack. They can be eaten warm or cold. They also freeze well - cool well and freeze on a covered tray. Transfer to a freezer bag once fully frozen and seal. They defrost overnight in a fridge or 4-5 hours at room temperature. They can be reheated in a hot oven for about 10 minutes until piping hot.

(PS If you don't seal well, the cheese will leak out of crust as shown above!)

Thursday, 19 May 2011

My Fitness Story... - Nigel

My contributor this week is Nigel, who is one of my Twitter followers. Quite coincidentally, he lives in the village in Buckinghamshire that I lived in before I moved to Lancashire, but we didn't live there at the same time. Nigel is a photographer and runs not one but two photography businesses. He's written today about his experience of his fitness programme that he started after Christmas and the benefits to his health. 

Since Christmas 2010, I have been going to my local gym; now, at age 54 years, that is quite an effort. Even though I play badminton regularly, I am not an active soul. My profession of commercial and social photography means spending a lot of time in front of this computer (or a different one if I am at home). My enrolment meant that if I attended the gym three times a week for eight weeks, I would get my sign-on fee returned.

Eight weeks on and I achieved my goal; not so much losing weight but improving my stamina and increasing my appetite. It also prompted me to buy my own provisions for lunch, instead of going to the sandwich shop in the week. I did seek some advice from a very good friend of mine, Lynne Garton, who as a professional nutritionist, advised me on what not to eat.

My weakness is still the odd beer or three about once a fortnight and I do try to consume more water instead of tea or coffee.

In the summer, I find exercise much easier with gardening and generally getting out there and enjoying the weather. I found that, over the Christmas period whilst attending the gym, it was the first year for some time that I did not come down with a cold or flu, but with a break over the Easter period of not attending, I now have a cough that I can't seem to shift. I am down to one visit a week to the gym and one evening of badminton. But I do plan on increasing the gym again.

With Summer approaching, I find there are good reasons to have a fit body, apart from which it does make me sharper in the mind and less sluggish. Gym is not for everyone, and I think from my experience, gym-goers mostly consist of two stereotypes: the wallflowers who stand in front of the mirrors, and the pros who keep their headphones on and focus with no eye contact or conversation. It can be quite a sad place.

All this is part of my programme to live a healthier life. Although my diet has not changed massively, I still keep a wise head on what I am eating and try and be as healthy as possible. I go to a network breakfast once a week and we do avoid heavy fry-ups. We are also growing vegetables in the garden which hopefully will improve our diet and our bank balance. So watch this space!

My thanks go to Nigel for writing this post today. I think that this shows that small(ish) changes to lifestyle can have a wider impact than just losing weight. The health benefits of regular exercise and watching what you eat are far-reaching. Again, this shows that it's what works for you that is best. Not everyone likes the gym (I don't do it, I tend to prefer classes) but if we all liked the same thing, it would be a boring old world, wouldn't it? And it also demonstrates that you can start a fitness programme at virtually any age - you don't have to be young to get fit, the health benefits can be achieved at any age. 

Feel free to share experiences, as always, in the comments below. My guest posters really do appreciate the messages of support they get from readers.

If you would like to share your fitness story, then please contact me on Twitter or email me on the address on the About Me page. Posts can be partly or fully anonymous, or if you are happy to be named, I will link back to your blog. All contributions are really appreciated so do get in touch, even if you feel yours is not a worthwhile story. If it's a personal experience, it is. And I mean that even if you have failed at something, because it is still YOUR fitness story and you learned from it. If you want to read previous posts in this series, click on the My Fitness Story... tab above and they are all linked on that page.

Thanks for supporting My Fitness Story... and do come back for another guest post next week.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Gallery - Mustachioed

Continuing my roll with these themes, Tara must have read my mind. I was looking through my pictures last week and saw one that I thought I really needed to fit into a post soon, because well, I just like the picture.

And then, I read the theme for the Gallery this week. Mustachioed. The theme is in honour of Laura from Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy? who has a bit of a thing for them. She wants us all to share our best 'tache pictures and the best won will win a camera. Sounds like a deal to me. And the perfect picture is just there for me to use.

I have a few pictures of the children with moustaches, mainly from dressing up outfits and the like. This one was taken not long after Missy Woo turned two and the children wanted to dress up as pirates and put disguises on. I think it's a very fetching 'tache, possibly a bit dashing for a pirate but still, it's one of my favourite pictures of my little girl.

My run on the Gallery has to end sometime. Will it be next week? Stay tuned to find out.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Netmums Review: Lego Ramses Return

After Missy Woo was sent Littlest Pet Shop Hamster Playground a few weeks back, I was asked if I'd like to review a Lego game with Monkey. As he loves Lego, it wasn't a difficult decision to say yes! I was pestered almost daily by him until it turned up. He has tons of Lego and is always after more. And, if he can't do it, he expects us to help!

The game is quite small - on a board that is no more than a few inches square - and the first task, is to put the game together. It's Lego so it comes with full instructions that Monkey could mostly follow but because he's a tiny bit young for the game (it's suitable from 7), he needed a bit of help with following those. Even the dice for the game is made of Lego and he liked putting that together.

And then you have to play the game! The game involves collecting pieces of treasure from the corners of the board whilst trying to avoid getting cursed by the Mummy. Part of it is also a memory game as there are crystals hidden away under the temples and you have to remember which colour crystal is where if the dice lands on a colour. We found that the rules weren't particularly extensive. The children seemed happy enough to sit down and play it by themselves - one of Monkey's friends came round for tea one day, so they played it and no arguments ensued. Always a bonus! I guess if they are happy enough playing it, then should we worry if they are following the rules exactly? I guess not. The instructions offer some alternative rules so it does allow some flexibility, and well, I'm not going to complain if they are not doing it exactly right.

The game only takes about 10 minutes to play, which I think is perfect for that age group. It would take longer if played by all four players it's designed for. Everything packs neatly back into the box and because the board is still quite small, it can be put away made up, which is a bonus. Because of the number of small pieces, I'd hate to play it in a car - we have enough minute pieces of Lego secreted around our house in the hope they'll get found one day as it is; putting them in the car would be just asking for trouble!

All in all, we enjoyed this game. It's made well and it has a lot of versatility to it. And with an RRP of £9.99, I think it's good value. Even if it doesn't keep them occupied for hours, it fits in with their attention span and so, I'm guessing it's a game that will actually get played to a finish instead of abandoned halfway through.

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I get to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Meal Planning Monday

Time to do another week's meals. This week seems like a bit of a cop out as I have one meal that is already made (in the freezer), two gaps, and one other thing I've made recently. Last week's was interesting - we reverted to leftovers one day and then I had a disaster with the BBQ chicken. I made it but whilst I was eating it, I decided it didn't smell right so I binned everyone else's on the basis of my instinct alone. I think it must have been OK or I have a strong constitution as I didn't get ill. Hey ho. 

So here's this week's meals:

Monday - Cheesy lentils
Tuesday - Onion tart
Friday - Cottage pie (in freezer)
Saturday - Chickpea and coriander burgers
Sunday - kept free

Hmm, 3 veggie meals this week. I think I've just picked out some things I wanted to try and they happened to be both veggie. The rest are probably things I can do with my eyes closed. 

Why not pop over to Mrs M's blog for more meal planning entries?

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A healthy mouth in a healthy body

I guess we all know the importance of maintaining good dental health. We know how to stop our kids having to have fillings or teeth extracted. We know how to look after our teeth so they last as long as possible. Or do we? I know when I was going to postnatal group, we had a dental nurse who told some horror stories of small children having to have milk teeth out because they had drunk sugary drinks out of baby bottles and so forth. But then, I've heard of children who have had to had teeth out because their well-meaning parents had given them dried fruit to eat, thinking it would be OK. I've tried to maintain balance with the things that the children eat or drink but even so, our dentist gives me different advice to some of the advice the dental nurse gave us that way. It can be quite confusing at times.

So, yes, they do have sweets and yes, they have raisins (which are often worse than  sweets because they stick to their teeth) but mostly after a meal - when saliva levels are higher and your teeth are better protected - or they have some cheese straight after as this helps to neutralise plaque acid. Most of their drinks are sugar free and I try, where possible, to dilute fruit juice because it is so acidic. We try to get them to brush their teeth properly - although our current project is for them to remember to spit out the toothpaste after our last dentist visit - because, apparently, too much fluoride can make their adult teeth come through mottled. (Do not - repeat, DO NOT - google dental fluorosis!) They actually love the dentist, although until recently, Missy Woo didn't like the fact that the dentist's chair moved but we're over that now.

My parents always made a point of visiting the dentist regularly. I grew up knowing that looking after your teeth is important - and that's passed onto me, as I still go regularly myself and hopefully, that habit will pass to my children.

Colgate sent me a goody bag to try out in order to promote their Healthy Mouth Challenge, which I have also had a play with. You fill out a quiz about your teeth and your dental routine and they give you recommendations based on your answers and if you're scared of the dentist, a bit more information and knowledge before you go. The results showed that my only occasional problem tends to be mouth ulcers, and I must admit I never realised that burning with hot drinks can cause those.

Colgate sent some me interesting facts about dental health. Did you know that:
  • bacteria is continually growing on your teeth even immediately after brushing? 
  • when you’re pregnant you’re more at risk of gum disease and tooth sensitivity? 
  • women suffer from more anxiety than men when visiting the dentist (with 12% of UK adults suffering from an extreme fear of the dentist)?
When it comes to buying toothpaste, I tend to get whatever is on offer. Luckily, when I checked, we most recently bought Colgate. They sent me Colgate Total Advanced toothpaste to try, which they claim is the only toothpaste that is clinically proven to provide non-stop 12hr protection against bacteria which is constantly building up in your mouth. Now, there is not a lot you can say about toothpaste! It's pleasant enough and I don't have any way of verifying that it does what it says. They also sent me a 360 Surround Toothbrush, some floss and some Plax mouthwash - something for every part of a healthy mouth routine.

Finally, Colgate sent a couple of resources for parents that I thought I'd share. (Click on them to enlarge). 

Firstly, oral care milestones for young children. 

And also, tips for brushing children's teeth. 

If you have a go at the Healthy Mouth Challenge, let me know how you did. Do you visit the dentist regularly? What about your children - do they see a dentist? How careful are you with sugary food and drinks? Do you struggle to get them to look after their teeth by brushing etc? 

I was sent a goody bag of Colgate products to try and have received no other compensation for this post. The opinions stated are my own and not affected by any compensation. I have not been told what to write and I retain full editorial control.)

Thursday, 12 May 2011

My Fitness Story... - Lottie

Today's fitness story is from Lottie, who has a gorgeous blog at Lottie Loves. Lottie has recovered from serious illness and major surgery and faced a struggle to return to full health. On top of that, she moved last year with her family to California and that has had a major impact on her approach to fitness and her fitness regime. I'll let Lottie take up the story...

In July, it will be three years since I had major surgery to remove my bowel and rectum and to make an internal pouch called a J Pouch. This surgery was the last hurdle after ten years of living with Ulcerative Colitis which disabled my life completely. Since this time, I have been on a journey to become fit and healthy AND improve my confidence and feel more feminine (bowel disease has a tendency to destroy all of these things). I talk about this a lot on my blog, particularly as part of my Finishing School which shares some of the things I've learned on my journey to being feminine and fabulous, in the hope of helping others do the same.

Me just after my operation
I thought I'd check in here today and tell you about part of my journey to become fit, which has become an even bigger part of my new life, new because I moved from the UK to California, USA.

When you suffer a long term illness, which culminates in major surgery, your life and health become that much more precious and you take far less for granted. You are never more acutely aware that being fit is essential to maintaining good health and/or improve on bad health.

This doesn't come easily for me as I HATE exercise. Loathe it. Would rather eat a sticky bun and veg out with a good book then step foot in a gym but, unfortunately, this doesn't make one fit.

As well as recovering from my op, I had also started to suffer headaches that would see me popping ibuprofen and laying down far too much. I don't have the luxury of swooning onto a fainting couch and being revived by my servants with smelling salts. No sirree. With two boys, five and seven, demanding my attention, and a determination that I will not let another health issue beat me, I knew I had to be proactive in tackling my health and fitness.

After a few trips to the Drs and eventually a trip to an Osteopath, it became clear that my posture was to blame for my headaches, and my surgery and years of doubling over in pain had completely destroyed any good posture I may have had. I did a little work on it with the Osteopath and it improved, but you know, I hate exercise. 20 minutes a day in my lounge doing stretches......sooooo dull.

I wanted to be free of the headaches, be more generally fit and improve my posture which aside from causing me pain problems also looks dreadful and for a lady who loves to wear vintage as I do, looking hunched over is not an option.

Then I got lucky and six months ago, we moved from the UK to the San Francisco Bay Area, Northern California. Well, it was all change here. There's no evidence of the USA's obesity crisis in this part of America. They're all flicky haired, yoga bodied, fitness freaks. Freaks is not too strong a word. To see someone around here wearing anything other than gym gear is unusual and the things they do! You see them riding all sorts of strange contraptions, running in shoes that look like gloves, cycling up mountains that I couldn't even contemplate walking up and generally living a life which goes something like this:

· Yoga
· Coffee Shop
· Zumba Class
· Coffee Shop
· Play with the kids
· Coffee Shop
· Gym Class
· Coffee Shop.

It's a hard life eh?

Me now
Well, you know what they say 'If you can't beat them then join them'. So, I have. I now have a gym membership and I have started Yoga. I LOVE it. I absolutely love it. It bloody kills me and every time I do a class I feel like I might just die at some point during the proceeding two days, but it's amazing. My posture is vastly improved, I have zero headaches, I look and feel so much fitter, my body is more toned and frankly I look hot............well, the sweaty kind of hot at least.

It helps enormously that I happened to make friends with two ladies who love the gym and yoga and they helped introduce me and ease me in. I'm (surprisingly) super unconfident when it comes to doing things like this for the first time.

Okay, and the sunshine helps. A little.

And the fact that around here, exercise comes hand in hand with a low fat version Yerba Mate (pronounced martay don't you know!) helps too.

I have discovered that there's an exercise for everyone, even me. Right now, I favour yoga; for you, it may be swimming, or dancing, or football, or running. I've had to try a lot of dull exercise to get to one that works for me and who knows - yoga may stop working for me but until it does, I'm going with it.

My physical and mental health are THE most important things to me as without them everything else falls down. I believe that if I can bounce back from an illness, get fit and be healthy whilst being a Mum to two small children, anyone can. It takes determination and probably a lot of support but if you're reading this and you're not there yet, I urge you to keep going as it really is the best thing for you.

I'm now off to kill myself with some flow from Down Dog to Yogi push ups. CLEARLY I'm insane..........but fit and healthy with it.

Firstly, thanks to Lottie for telling her story today. I'm sure you agree that she has transformed her appearance in a relatively short time. What her story proves - in my opinion anyway - is that, once again, the things that work best are different for everyone. Most importantly, it's things you enjoy, that you'll keep doing even when the chips are down, that work for you. The challenge is finding what that is for you! 

Do you have any experiences of recovering your fitness and health after a major illness? Feel free to share your experiences via the comments below. My guest posters really do appreciate the messages of support they get from readers. 

If you would like to share your fitness story, then please contact me on Twitter or email me on the address on the About Me page. Posts can be partly or fully anonymous, or if you are happy to be named, I will link back to your blog. All contributions are really appreciated so do get in touch, even if you feel yours is not a worthwhile story. If it's a personal experience, it is. And I mean that even if you have failed at something, because it is still YOUR fitness story and you learned from it. If you want to read previous posts in this series, click on the My Fitness Story... tab above and they are all linked on that page.

Thanks for supporting My Fitness Story... and do come back for another guest post next week.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

My children, chilled out

I think I'm on a bit of a roll with the Gallery at the moment. Every time I see the week's prompt, I know instantly what I want to do or which existing photo I want to use. This week's prompt is "Chilled Out" - photos of relaxing. Now, this photo has been in my archives for a while - it's nearly a year old - and I was only thinking a while back that I really needed to find an opportunity to use it.

So, it was Spring Bank Holiday weekend last year, and it was raining, and cold for the end of May. I was trying to get something done and the children wanted to watch a film so I put a DVD on for them in the room we call the playroom (which is actually what should be our dining room). I can't remember how it happened, but I found them like this:

I don't think it was quite *that* cold but still, it made for a good photograph - and of course, they were happy to pose for me! These days, Monkey and Missy Woo seem to be permanently on the go and don't seem to have much time for chilling out so it's nice to capture them like this, even if I didn't actually say they could get their duvets down.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Gino and me (part 2)

Welcome back to part 2 of my interview with Gino D’Acampo. In part 1, Gino told me about his love of Twitter, his Good Food Fight campaign with Cheestrings and how he’s been banned from the kitchen at home. I’d relaxed by now and we were chatting more than I was interviewing him.

I wanted to know what Gino though was the secret to good Italian food.  “It’s to keep it simple. A lot of people, they think that creating Italian food is difficult and they need to try to find these fancy ingredients. Italian food is about buying a fresh tomato when it’s in season, buying a good quality extra virgin olive oil and a few basil leaves and there you have it, that is what good Italian food is all about”. His quick fix for a fast, healthy meal is, of course, a plate of pasta. “In the time you’ve boiled the pasta for 7-8 minutes, I can do a sauce, a tomato sauce with cheese on top, with a bit of fresh basil.”

He feels that food in Italian restaurants here is improving but is still behind. “It’s getting better. But still, I think we’re still about 20 years behind here. To be honest with you, in London at the moment, there are probably not even 10 restaurants that I consider do proper Italian food. Not even 10; I think the last time I counted, I was on 7.”

We somehow came on to the fact that I do weekly meal plans and it turns out he’d been looking at my Meal Planning Monday post that morning – oh, and the post detailing the contents of my fridge! Whilst part of me cursed the timing of these posts, Gino told me how he doesn’t like meal plans but sees the need for them. “My wife tried to do a weekly menu and after one month, I had to say, “We’re going to have to stop this” because so often when my wife planned to have, say, pizza, I don’t fancy pizza, so I’d say to her, ”Why don’t you do a bit of freestyle?” so we just cook whatever we want. But with kids, you have to plan ahead, especially if you want to keep food healthy. When people ask me what is the secret to healthy food, I say you need to plan your shopping.”

Last year, Gino published a book called The Italian Diet, and being interested in fitness myself, I asked him whether he’d ever struggled with his weight. “Never. I called the book “The Italian Diet” but it’s not really a diet book. It is to show people that if you eat sensibly, you just don’t put weight on. If you eat sensible – of course if you eat a kilo of cheese a day, you’re going to put on weight - but if you have a portion-controlled amount of cheese, everything is fine. All things in moderation. That’s what the book was all about.“  To stay fit, he swims and “I move a lot. I’m always up doing something.”

What about Gino on a day off? I asked him what activities he does with his sons when he has free time. Having recently given up his Sunday radio show, he has more time at home. But do you know what he does? He cooks! “We play and stuff like that, but I try to cook with them if I can. What I’m trying to do is to show them that cooking is a fun thing to do. And that is important because once children realise that cooking is fun, they will use that for the rest of their life. My kids cook anything,  simple things like cheese on toast, a plate of pasta with tomato sauce or anything that they like.”

I was disappointed to learn that Gino is not a fan of football. “I don’t like football very much. My little boy does it; Rocco loves football. Luciano prefers rugby, he’s a rugby player. I actually prefer rugby to football, to be honest with you. I think it’s more interesting, more a gentleman’s game.”  

Finally, I ran out of questions.  The time had passed in a flash and after a hug, a photocall and exchange of pleasantries, I was back outside. I got my phone out to tweet someone to meet them, looked up and there was Gino stood next to me. When he noticed my phone, he laughed at me tweeting until I explained what I was doing. My abiding impression of him was that he was great to interview. He was friendly and easy to talk to, and occasionally a bit cheeky; in other words, very much like his on-screen persona. It was a pleasure to meet him.

And before anyone asks, yes, he remained fully clothed throughout!

Visit Cheestrings.com to learn more about Gino’s Good Food Fight, and see how Cheestrings are working to help mums make good food fun for the lunchbox.

(I have not been paid a fee to write this interview, although my travel expenses were refunded. I have included a link to the Cheestrings website as requested but other than that, I have not been told what to write.)

Monday, 9 May 2011

Gino and me (part 1)

When I received an email entitled “Gino D’Acampo”, I thought it was a press release. Imagine my shock when I found it was an invitation to meet and interview the Italian TV chef, famous for cooking nude on This Morning and winning “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here” in 2009. I was dumbstruck, because well, I’m a blogger, not a journalist!

So, one Monday morning, I was scribbling nervously on a tube into London, making sure I had questions covering all of the five Fs that this blog is about. I had tweeted about my nerves the night before, and had a tweet back from Gino. When I walked in, my mouth suddenly dry and trying to maintain my composure, he recognised me from my profile picture straight away. Luckily, after me fumbling around with setting my phone to record and getting my notebook out, the conversation started to flow and I forgot my nerves. In fact, we talked so much that I know we went over the time allotted for the interview and covered so much that I’ve split this into two parts.

It seemed natural to start the interview by talking about Twitter. Gino is a big fan and told me why he loves it. “I think it’s a good way to get a response from people straight away, and you can be sociable with people, it’s great. What’s the point of doing my job if I don’t ever have the chance to talk to people that follow me?” He likes to reply to his followers but he can’t reply to everyone – he has over 200,000 followers!

I’d been invited to do the interview as part of a campaign being launched today with Cheestrings called Gino’s Good Food Fight. I asked him why he was doing it. “I got together with Cheestrings to start Gino’s Good Food Fight because I wanted to help busy mums who are preparing lunchboxes. I wanted to make sure that whatever they put in there is healthy and a bit of fun in the lunch box. We need to excite children. What we wanted to achieve is when kids open their lunchbox, they are excited and open it with a smile, so they eat healthy with a smile.” I wondered if his children – he has two boys, aged 9 and 6 – had packed lunches. They don’t at school, but Gino tells me they have them when they go to football and rugby and that Rocco, his youngest, gets excited just having a lunchbox, just like Monkey and Missy Woo do. “We want to make sure that the excitement is still there. That’s the idea of Gino’s Good Food Fight.”

Gino says his boys are good eaters and try everything because that is how they have raised them. He feels that it’s down to the parents to get children to try new foods. “A lot of parents, they’re scared to let them try stuff... Some parents, they don’t like certain things. They automatically assume their kids won’t like it... My little boy, he never liked broccoli but the third time that he tried it, he thought it was the best thing ever. You should try something at least two or three times.” His approach to food with his sons is very much the same as his parents’ approach when he was a child. “My mum and dad always wanted me to try something new. It’s the same with my boys.”

I was interested in how they ate at home and whether it was mainly Italian. He told me it was a bit of everything – from Italian to barbeques and Sunday roasts. When pressed on his favourite cuisine apart from Italian, he chose Thai and Mediterranean cuisine as his favourites. “I like Mediterranean cuisine because I find it very full of flavour, very interesting.”

You won’t be surprised to learn that he usually does most of the cooking at home.  “I’m one of these people that if somebody else is in the kitchen, I have to get in there and do something .My wife hates that. The nanny hates that as well”. Things might be changing, however. “I’m chilling out lately, I have to say, I’m trying to avoid the kitchen. One of the reasons why is the nanny and my wife, they completely banned me from there because they say that I always find something wrong.” I’m sensing the perfectionist in him when it comes to food.

That’s it for part 1. Come back tomorrow, when Gino tells me the secret to good Italian food, his opinion of the state of Italian restaurants in the UK, and I find out Gino has been looking in my fridge!

Visit Cheestrings.com to learn more about Gino’s Good Food Fight, and see how Cheestrings are working to help mums make good food fun for the lunchbox.

(I have not been paid a fee to write this interview, although my travel expenses were paid. I have included links to the Cheestrings website as requested but other than that, I have not been told what to write.)
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