20 parenting moments I don’t want to forget

20 parenting moments I don't want to forget

I’ve been talking a lot about some the harder parts of parenting, so I’m trying to add a few happy posts to balance it all out. To quasi-quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, I would like to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness.

Obi Wan Kenobi

Sure, I still have to wipe a lot of bottoms and noses and clean up the odd bit of sick. Yes, it’s true that they both wake up multiple times every night and I am always tired. But there are some wonderful things happening right now, and some things that happened not too long ago that I want to hold in my heart forever.

I wish I could bottle these things and save them for later when they’re long gone. There are hundreds of photos and videos, but some moments can’t be captured by a camera.

So here is my list of 20 early years parenting moments that I don’t want to forget:

  1. When one of them sits on my lap and I bury my face in his hair. The smell of the baby shampoo and the soft texture of the babyish hair (never mind the possibility of the odd nit).
  2. The half-a-minute each day when my boys show their brotherly love for each other – a shy little cuddle, sharing a bit of food, or playing nicely without it ending in a screamfest.
  3. The way my toddler dances with pure joy to any music at all. Even the ring of a mobile phone.
  4. All four of us snuggling in bed together in the early hours of the morning.
  5. The way my eldest never stops talking and loves to explain how things work (putting his own fanciful take on it, of course).
  6. Hugging both of them on the sofa and watching kid’s movies on lazy Sunday afternoons.
  7. The snorty mcsnuffles sound my youngest makes while contentedly sucking his dummy.
  8. The day each of them first gripped my finger with their tiny hands when they were newborns.
  9. The feeling of having them fall asleep in my arms.
  10. My toddler’s hilarious forays into talking (yelling ‘caaat’ at the cat and saying ‘beep’ while touching your nose), which he refuses to perform while the camera is recording.
  11. Watching CBeebies. My eldest is starting to move on to CBBC and I’m really going to miss Mister Maker and Iggle Piggle.
  12. The way my boys cuddle their soft toys. We grow up to think boys aren’t as sentimental as girls but that is not how it begins.
  13. Getting to choose what clothes they wear every day.
  14. Reading them stories. My eldest is starting to read the stories to me now, which is also nice, but I was loving the sound of my own voice. 😉
  15. Holding their little hands. Having them not be ashamed to hold my hand anytime in public.
  16. Having them jump into my arms when I pick them up from childcare/school.
  17. Answering endless “why” questions.
  18. The way they play so happily together when they’re in the bath. I often dread bathtime, but someday they’ll be too big for bathtime together with mummy presiding.
  19. The way my eldest says “I love you mummy”. And I say “I love you too”. Then he says, “That’s great.”
  20. Singing them to sleep.

What are your favourite moments with your children? If you could bottle one thing from their early years, what would it be?

Obi-Wan photo by Wacko Photographer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Diary of an imperfect mum
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Tammymum

Parenting skills I didn’t know I needed

I’ve got a little bit of blogger’s block. I’ve been trying to think of something vaguely funny to write to offset some of my serious posts. It occurred to me that there are all sorts of parenting “soft skills” that nobody talks about. Those little things you do all the time when you have kids, but you never ever did before you had kids. Nor did you ever anticipate that you would need to do such things.

parenting-skills

 

  1. Scraping toothpaste off of things (e.g. the sink, my bra, the cat)
  2. Jumping over toddler gates in the middle of the night (because those things are impossible to open when you’re half asleep)
  3. Explaining why you shouldn’t rest your penis on the sink (But why, mummy? I love to put it there!)
  4. Explaining why you shouldn’t put your finger up your bum (You shouldn’t, right?)
  5. Explaining why you shouldn’t put your finger up the cat’s bum (that poor cat)
  6. Defrosting and cooking sausages (the only thing they’re guaranteed to eat)
  7. Cutting teensy tiny nails without drawing blood
  8. Distinguishing poop from chocolate (harder than you might think)
  9. Cleaning crayon off of windows (impossible)
  10. Phonics (those things m-m-m-make no ssss-sense to me)
  11. Extricating back-arching toddlers from narrow behind-the-sofa hiding places
  12. Cleaning up a poonami without smearing it all over the wall
  13. Using a screwdriver to replace musical mobile batteries at 4am
  14. Carrying a handbag, changing bag, shopping and a wriggling toddler at the same time
  15. Carrying tired preschooler up hills at speed to reach toilet in time
  16. Secret kitchen biscuit consumption whilst preparing fruit for children
  17. Never leaving the house without snacks and wet wipes
  18. Not getting stuck when fetching children off playground/soft play equipment
  19. Oceans of patience and self-control
  20. Remembering to get lots of cuddles before they turn into stinky teenagers

Can you relate to any of these? What are your unexpected parenting skills?

Tammymum
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Casting call: Actors needed to play the role of parent

This post might be controversial. Maybe people will totally judge me over it. But I am over worrying about being judged … and this post explains one of the reasons why.

Picture this:

You’re in the park and your son is playing confidently on the equipment designed for his age group. You’re chilling on a bench nearby – maybe you even check your phone. Another mum turns up and is keeping close to her son as he climbs the stairs, and she always catches him at the bottom of the slide. All the time she is talking to him loudly in a conversational tone, loudly encouraging him to continue being totally awesome at playing in the park.

What do you do?

If the answer is carrying on doing what you’re doing, then well done. You may be immune to the scourge of acting like a parent.

But you know what I’ve been known to do? I start copying the other mum I see at the park. I go and stand near where my son is playing, talking to him and stuff. Because I (almost subconsciously) worry that the other mum will judge me if I don’t.

I react to my instinct that in public I must parent in a way that other people – especially other parents – will approve of.

Do you ever change your natural parenting behaviour when you’re in public? Do you start acting like you think other people want you to? Some examples I see and/or do every day:

  • Correcting my children loudly when they misbehave in public, so that others know that I’m not letting them get away with it. But NEVER shouting.
  • Being excessively involved in my children’s play when I have an audience.
  • Acting more attentive than normal in making sure my child doesn’t fall over or otherwise sustain an injury. Hovering. Otherwise someone might think I am neglectful.
  • NEVER leaving my children alone in the car, not even for a moment while I put my trolley in the trolley park. Even if this means dangerously carrying armfuls of groceries along with a child and any number of other items.
  • Making loud comments about limiting screen time when they play with their tablets in public.
  • Worrying about whether others will approve of what food I feed my children. Making excuses for biscuits.

The parenting performance

I am perfectly happy with my parenting techniques that I use in private. There’s nothing wrong with them. And yet I almost compulsively adjust them in response to what I perceive as other people’s expectations. I’d be surprised to hear that I’m the only one.

Modern-day parenting is full of the expectation of being present and accounted for. “Helicopter parenting” is the fashion. We make sure our children are well-behaved and polite, are fed healthy food, play with educational toys, bathe regularly, brush their teeth, and are never put in harm’s way. Of course we do those things. I can’t speak for others, but I suspect I’m not the only one who’s totally insecure about this. I know I’m doing the right things, but I am so worried that other people think I’m doing it wrong.

And so my public parenting has become a performance. I feel as though every time I go in public, I’m walking onto the parenting stage.

I’m so over it

Is it all in my head? I don’t think so, actually. I’ve been known to judge other parents. I’ve heard other parents judging other parents. I’m almost certain that people sometimes judge me.

It’s human nature to be judgemental. We can’t judge people for being judgers because that just creates a big ugly judge-y snowball.

What we need – what I need – is confidence. Most parents are doing the best they can with the tools they have. We need to believe this about ourselves. Letting go of our parenting insecurities will make us happier – and happy parents raise happy children.

Parenting is hard enough without worrying about what other people think. So the next time you’re at the park – go ahead and hover if it makes you happy. But not because you think that the mum over there checking her phone thinks you should.

A Mum Track Mind
Quite Frankly She Said Sunday Best
My Petit Canard

Chinese take-away pork & green beans recipe

We’re all so temped by take-away food – the ease, convenience and speed, and the taste! Over the years, I’ve lived with people from a lot of different cultural backgrounds. East Asians, Pakistani, Greek, Italian and English tastes have now fused with my own and had a major impact on my cooking.

Anyone that’s been following this recipe blog will remember the Tandoori Chicken and Dahl recipe I shared, fine-tuned with tips from a Pakistani friend of mine. The dish I’m sharing in this post was learned from my wonderful Chinese housemate – and like most of mine, it’s one that you can make your own in no time. The recipe I’m sharing here is one variation, and it can easily incorporate more or different veg, Quorn or ground turkey.

This is a super-fast, kid-friendly meal that’s also gluten free. It can be vegetarian if you prefer to stir-fry tofu or Quorn. My hubby always goes for seconds on this one, and there’s just so much less oil, MSG and other restaurant add-ins. Trust me: try this and you won’t even miss the local Chinese.

You’ll need:

  • 1lb ground pork
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1-2 tsp Chinese five spice (or your own with clove, anise and black pepper at least)
  • 2 cups topped and tailed green beans (fresh is quicker, but frozen is fine)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Oyster sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce (we use gluten free)
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp or one cube concentrated chicken stock
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • Optional sweet chilli sauce (for grown-ups and adventurous kids)
  • 1-2 cups white rice (gauge your family’s love of rice)
  • Chicken or veg stock in the rice (optional)
  • 1 tsp of Chinese five spice in the rice (optional)
  • 1 cup frozen peas in the rice (optional)

Chinese stir fry ingredients

The method:

If you’re lucky enough to own a rice cooker, by all means use it, and well done you. I am a sad sap and have no such luxury, so with this recipe I get the rice started first, in a pot, on the stove. I add a bit of chicken (or veg) stock, a dash of Chinese Five Spice and some frozen peas to the water, bring it to the boil and add the rice. Some rice cookers are cool with spices and stock, but if you’re not sure, maybe just make plain white rice, and the stir fry will still be amazing.

Mix the Oyster and Hoisin sauce with the five spice and onion powder and set aside.

If you’re using frozen green beans (they’re already topped/tailed/halved!), I recommend starting with the beans in the wok with the sesame oil. Toss the beans around to lightly coat with the oil, and then turn the heat to high. If the beans are fresh, add them after the meat has begun to brown.

Rice and stir fry on the stoveOn a high heat, keep the beans from sitting in one spot for too long while they thaw a bit. Once they’ve started to soften, they should only take 2-3 minutes.

Add the ground pork and break it up in the wok. Be sure the sesame oil is in the wok if you’ve not added the beans yet.

Add your pre-mixed sauces and spices (Oyster, Hoisin, five spice and onion powder). Mix it into the meat as you’re breaking up the mince. The benefit of pre-mixing the sauces and dry spice is these can all be added in one swift motion, allowing you to continue stirring and breaking up the meat.

Once the mince is broken into nice small bits and all coated with the sauce, stop stirring for about a minute or two (phew!) to allow some colour to brown onto the meat. It won’t take long, maybe five minutes, to partially brown the meat.

Pork and beans in the wokIf you’ve chosen fresh beans, now’s the time to toss those beauties in. Stir them frequently for about 3 minutes.

The liquid that’s created from the beans and meat is now perfect for mixing the chicken stock concentrate into. I use a liquid concentrate, and it mixes right in. If you prefer to use dry stock, I suggest you crush it and add a splash of water to dissolve it first.

Allow the mixture to reduce slightly for about 3-5 minutes, and check that your beans are soft enough for the kids. Total time from turning on the wok shouldn’t exceed 15 minutes.

The rice should be ready now (either method usually takes about 20 minutes) so give it a little fluff.

Serve your pork and green beans over rice and enjoy! I love adding sweet chilli sauce (or just chilli flake if I’m watching my sugar) to this dish to add a bit of fire.

Go on, give your Chinese Five Spice an adventure outside of the cupboard, try cooking with Oyster sauce if you haven’t, and for sure add the Sweet Chilli sauce if you want to liven it up. The Hoisin sauce adds a sweetness kids love, and the addition of peas and five spice to the rice makes the whole meal feel exotic and special.

Best of all, it’s delicious and healthy!

Kids portions of minced pork and green bean stir-fry

Sparkly Mummy

Blog Toast Tuesday: 20 September 2016

Welcome back to #blogtoast Tuesday, my weekly feature where I offer a congratulatory toast to two blogs that I like. Virtual booze does not have the same effect as real booze, but perhaps my modest praise can take the edge off your day in much the same way.

The Unsung Mum: For the underestimated and unacknowledged rad mum

I’m realising that my very favourite blogs are funny and poignant ones that highlight the hard bits of parenting with a self-deprecating sense of humour, and try to make us all feel better about ourselves. The Unsung Mum is doing this right.

Her posts are written in the third person and feature hilarious illustrations that appear to have been drawn in Microsoft Paint or suchlike. They are usefully labelled in case you are in any doubt about (for example) which bits of a picture are shit and which bits are chocolate.

I particularly enjoyed “How to rid yourself of the mothers’ group Twatty McTroll Face“, about those women both online and IRL who make you feel bad because you use disposable nappies and don’t make your own hummus – and how we can defeat them.

Her most recent post, “The Unsung Mum and the PND disaster” describes the things that went through her head when she suffered with PND. I relate to a lot of it, but also appreciate her very wise statement that PND comes in many different shapes and sizes. The most important bit is how she says it was a friend that helped her the most, telling her “it’s okay not to be okay”. It’s a good reminder of what we should all tell our friends sometimes when we think they might need it.

Our Rach Blogs

In a Twitter conversation recently, Rach told me that people don’t like her (her exact words: “I’m like thrush”). Based on how interesting her blog is, I find this hard to believe. But then again, people don’t like me either. And I only sometimes like people.

There are lots of things I like about this blog, and as one of its features is Top 10 lists, I’m going to be all thematic & shit and list the reasons I like her blog. I’m only doing 5 though (I don’t have time/too lazy to do 10).

  1. She writes feminist stuff. Her recent post, “What do you mean you don’t want kids?” was brilliant. Nobody thinks being childless or choosing childlessness makes a man less of a person, so why are people always implying that about women?
  2. She questions everyday bullshit. I like this one where she wonders why we always say sorry to each other for stupid things like pressing the same lift button at the same time. I’m not British-born so I work harder than anyone to say sorry all the time (to prove my Britishness), but maybe I should stop that.
  3. She writes about mental health and PND awareness, a topic that is also close to my heart.
  4. She is a good writer. Every post unfolds just like you’re reading a really good column in a really good newspaper.
  5. She covers an eclectic range of topics. I’ve read a lot of advice in the blogging world that says you need to make sure you stick to a niche, but I’m sceptical about that. It’s my blog and I’m going to write what I want. I’m glad she does that too.

Please do join me in toasting the best blogs by tweeting your favourite this week with the hashtag: #blogtoast (and if you mention @themumreviews I will retweet you – it’s win/win!) – or let me know just what you think of me in the comments!

Feeling bad when teacher says my kid is naughty at school

Last week, my 4-year-old son started school. My post about that important milestone said that I didn’t feel sad, despite feeling lots of other emotions. But after a week and a half of him going, I’ve been experiencing an entirely unanticipated emotion:

Guilt.

Why guilt, you wonder? Is it because I’m enjoying the extra child-free work time I get while he’s at school? Hells no – not guilty about that at all.

I feel guilty because he is struggling to settle in, and I don’t know how to help him.

What’s going on

When I picked him up on the first day at school, the teacher took me aside to say that his behaviour is “challenging”. He doesn’t like to share and starts screaming in distress sometimes if somebody encroaches on what he sees as his territory. He has trouble transitioning between activities – he gets upset if they ask him to move on from something before he’s finished. And sometimes he just plain old doesn’t listen or do what the teacher says.

On the walk home from school on that first day, I was holding back the tears the whole time. My son wasn’t unhappy about his first day at school. But I was so disappointed about the teacher’s negative report. I didn’t want my son to know how much it upset me.

On the second and third days of school, I got more negative reports from the teacher. The teacher asked that I pursue a referral to a paediatrician that had been commenced back when he was at nursery. I felt like the only mum in the whole school whose child wasn’t settling in smoothly. I didn’t see the teacher talking to any of the other parents after school.

Over the weekend, we started using a pasta jar as a reward system. Good behaviour = a piece of pasta. Bad behaviour = lose a piece of pasta. Full jar = a special treat. It worked well for us at home and we told him that he would get lots of extra pasta for good behaviour at school.

The teacher reported a lukewarm improvement. Then I didn’t hear from her for the rest of this week. Apparently, however, she told my husband that his behaviour was “too complicated to say whether it’s good or bad”.

I’ve got all the feels (and neuroses)

Talking to the teacher makes me feel so uncomfortable! I feel like I’m the one who’s been naughty. I feel like my son’s behaviour is my fault. I feel a bit like it’s a parenting fail.

I also feel powerless because I don’t know how to help him. If I could be a fly on the wall and see what he was actually doing in class, then I might be able to better help the teacher manage his behaviour. But that’s not possible, and she is busy with 30-odd kids to look after. I feel guilty for taking up her time!

I actually realise that I’m overreacting a bit. Perhaps these feelings are rooted in my own feelings around school. I was also naughty at school. I had serious issues with authority, and I was a late bloomer in terms of social skills. My reports always said “does not play well with others”.

And I’ve worked hard to reform myself. At university, I was the perfect student. I’m good now and I follow the rules, and I (mostly) play well with others. I don’t want my son to be labelled as a naughty kid, or to not be liked by his peers.

I always blamed my bad behaviour at school on some of the dysfunctional aspects of my upbringing. I’ve worked hard to give my son the most “normal” family life possible. His upbringing is much different from mine and much more stable.

So is being naughty at school, like, genetic or something?

Why I’m sharing

The reason I’m sharing this information with my readers is that I suspect I’m not alone in getting upset about my child’s behaviour at school. I’ve talked to other parents who feel equally as powerless to help their children improve in areas in which they might be falling behind. These other parents often feel as though they are being blamed – that teachers and others have implied that bad school behaviour starts at home.

Is it our fault? I’m not sure if there’s a clear cut answer to this.

But I have to say that it makes me a little angry that so much is made of a child not behaving well in his first week at school. Starting reception class asks an awful lot of little 4 and 5 year olds. It entails long days, a new environment, new people, different food and a complete change of routine.

Was it really necessary to take me aside in the first week and already label my child as being naughty?

And of course there’s always the different implication that my child might have special needs, which brings more worry and the stress of the protracted diagnosis process you face within the NHS.

Ticking all the boxes

I feel our education system can sometimes suffer from a tick box culture. No doubt many of you will be familiar with the Early Years Framework, which is used in nursery and pre-school as well as at Reception. It aims to ensure that all aspects of the children’s developmental needs are meant, and has 6 areas of focus:

  • communication and language
  • personal, social and emotional
  • physical development
  • literacy
  • mathematics
  • knowledge and understanding of the world

If your child went to nursery, you probably received occasional charts that showed whether your child was achieving as expected for their age group in each of these areas.

It’s great that childcare and education settings are aware of important development areas for children, and that they’re trying to develop all of the areas and help to shape a balanced person as the child grows.

But what bothers me is that it seems like they are so quick to raise concerns if the child isn’t achieving in every area. My son has above average literacy and numeracy, but he falls behind in personal, social and emotional development.

Does that really mean there’s something wrong with him? Or could it be that he is only 4 years old, and he’s only human, and he’s developing in his own unique way?

So if you’re experiencing some of the same issues as your child starts school, just remember that you’re not alone. That you’re trying your best. And that every child develops at their own pace.

Featured image credit: Jonathan Khoo/Flickr; Creative Commons licence 2.0

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Not feeling sad on my son’s first day at school

I can’t resist jumping on the bandwagon and writing a starting school post. My big boy started school today. I expected to feel a bit sad because my baby is growing up, but I didn’t really feel sad at all. I’m wondering if I’m feeling the wrong thing!

We’re used to being apart. He’s been going to a childminder, nursery or preschool pretty regularly since he was 10 months old. So actually, for us, school is going to make very little difference to how much time we spend together. I felt so many things today, but none of them were sad.

More than anything, I felt proud. Proud as he ran away from me towards the school gates, full of confidence and excitement about his new adventure – not the least bit scared.

I felt excited. I’m so excited to face all of the new challenges ahead.

I felt geeky – because I’m totally looking forward to helping him with his homework.

I felt insecure. I want the other parents and the teachers and school staff to like me!

I felt worried. Will my son behave? Will he make friends? Will he be happy at this school?

I felt guilty – because I didn’t feel sad at all. I’ve got free childcare and a new way to relate to my son.

Babies are cute and cuddly, but I wanted to have kids because I’m just a big kid myself. I remember the kid stuff: kid’s films, kid’s food, kid’s games – lots of silly stuff. Now my eldest is in school, he will start enjoying things that I can still enjoy myself. If that is a little bit selfish, then you can judge me all you please.

As it turns out, my son was perfectly happy about his school day. He wouldn’t tell me much about it though. He said it was a secret.

His teacher told me that his behaviour was “challenging”. He needs to work on sharing and doing what he’s told. I’ve never been very good at doing what I was told either. But I won’t let him get away with it. He can be better than me.

We rounded off the day by dancing like total goofballs in the living room to some of our favourite songs. We left the curtains open so any passerby could witness our foolishness.

The baby days are gone for my big boy, but the fun has just begun.

My Random Musings

Easy Cheesy Chilli con Carne

I’m a sucker for a good chilli, not too beany, full of flavour and options for serving. You can serve this in a bowl with toppings, in a wrap, over corn chips, in a taco salad or just over a bit of white rice. I’ve adapted this recipe as a quick, midweek, family meal that can be used in different ways over a couple of days.

I tend to make my own chilli powder (little dash of this, little dash of that, into the pot), but you can use your favourite pre-mix from a packet.You can save your family from anti-caking agents and colours by using your own spice mix, so I’ve provided my mix below. Please feel free to stick to your own methods though, if you prefer to use a little veg oil when browning and a packet of chilli spice mix – no judgement here!Spices for chilli

I use frozen veg (F) and tins, even squeezy tubes of coriander if I don’t have time to chop. There are a couple of ingredients that are optional, mostly because they may not be readily available in the UK. That being said, before I left, places like Tesco and Sainsbury’s were offering decent Mexican food selections, so you may luck out!

As with most of my recipes, I like to be in control of oil, salt, sugar and additives, so I’ll offer tips to avoid packet mixes and too much of the yuck that comes with ready meals. If you can get your hands on a nice, deep, non-stick pot, you won’t need oil for browning the beef.

My kids love this dish in a tortilla wrap with cheese; my husband and I prefer to dash some hot sauce in our bowl of chilli and top it with cheese and crème fraîche, or soured cream, and a handful of corn chips. It’s also awesome on a jacket potato, and who doesn’t love a homemade chilli dog?

You’ll need:

  • 1lb minced beef (half a kilo or so). Vegetarians could use Quorn or just extra beans.
  • 1 cup chopped white onion (F)
  • 1 TB chopped/minced garlic (I buy massive jars to keep in the fridge)
  • 1 small tin (7oz/198g) diced green chilies, mild and fire roasted if you can find them (OPTIONAL) (I used to just hand chop long green chilies that I found at my local high street market)
  • 1-2 TB chilli spice mix (I use dry cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, garlic, chipotle chilli – you may find peri peri easier to find – and cinnamon)
  • 1.5 tins of crushed tomato (A tin is usually 400g. In the US, I use 3 8oz tins)
  • 1 cube dry beef stock or 1 TB concentrated beef stock (Knorr have fab little jelly pots of beef stock that work well)
  • 1 cup shredded/grated carrot
  • 1 small tin cannellini beans (That’s about 200g or 8oz. You could use a large 400g tin if you like lots of beans. If you prefer kidney beans, go for it, but I’m not a fan of the skins on them)
  • 2 heaped tsp cane sugar
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh coriander/cilantro (seems like a lot, but really it’s just two handfuls. Alternatively, use 1 TB of squeezy tube or a large chunk of frozen chopped)
  • 1-2 TB refried beans from a tin
  • Dash of Worcestershire Sauce (OPTIONAL at the end)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (or more!). I prefer non-greasy cheeses like double Gloucester or Red Leicestershire as a topping.
  • A few TB crème fraîche or soured cream (OPTIONAL topping, but so delicious, it’s worth a try)
  • Salted corn tortilla chips (Optional, but yummy)
  • 2-4 flour tortillas (Optional, if your kids like a wrap, like mine. You can use white rice if you prefer, and you can make a pot while the chilli is cooking)

The method:

I use a deep, non-stick pot for this dish, and keep the lid handy. It’s like a camel – it will spit!

Spread the chopped onion across the bottom of the pot over a high heat. If using frozen, add the onions before turning on the heat, and then go about gathering your other ingredients so they thaw a bit.

Add the minced beef and garlic, and give it all a good mix to combine. You won’t need oil if you’re using a non-stick base.

If you’ve managed to find some mild green chilies, now is the time to add these beauties – for depth of flavour, not heat.

Chilli mince cooking
There’s something really satisfying about browning meat.

If you want to make your own spice mix, put them all together is a little dish as follows, in order of quantity (but adjust to your own taste): Almost 1 tsp cumin, then slightly less paprika, oregano, garlic, a tiny dash of chipotle chille (or peri-peri if you like) and an even tinier dash of cinnamon. The cinnamon really goes a long way, so tread lightly.

As everything starts heating up and producing liquid (try to go for low-fat content beef), add the spice mix you’ve just made or your packet mix.

As the onions, beef and minced garlic brown up, and the dry spices dry up the liquid, stir pretty continuously (especially if you haven’t used oil). Have your tins of tomato at the ready to dump in, and reduce the temp before burning.

Add the tomato and reduce the heat to medium. Give the mixture a good stir and cover it. Mind the spitting!

Add the dry, crushed stock cube or concentrated stock (no water added), drained can of cannellini beans and the shredded carrot.

Sprinkle in the sugar (to taste, but man that’s a lot of tomato, so be generous, it’s still less than ready made), a splash of water (only about a ¼ cup), give the mixture a good last stir, reduce the heat to med-low and cover.

If you have fresh coriander, give it a good rinse, remove the lower stalks, but don’t worry about the upper stalks between leaves. I roll up the coriander in a little sausage before finely chopping along the tube for a rough chop in seconds. The upper stalks will add flavour without being stringy, so don’t worry about separating leaves from the stalk.

chopping coriander
You don’t need to take the leaves off the stalks when preparing coriander.

Add the coriander/cilantro and mix in well before re-covering.

The carrots will soften, the tomato will mellow and the beans will virtually disappear over the next ten minutes. Keep the kettle handy in case you feel like another drop of water will help soften the carrots or prevent bottom sticking, but try not add too much.

After about 15 minutes, the chilli will have reduced a bit, but it’s still likely to be a bit more liquid than we’d like. This is where the refried beans come in. Stir in the refried beans a little at a time to help thicken the mixture, mellow the tomato and spices, and add fibre.

Give it a little taste and add salt and pepper if you like. Again, it’s a lot of tomato, so salt is likely necessary, but remember, it’s also in the beef stock and refried beans. I add a dash of Worcestershire sauce, as well as salt at this point, and give it good stir. There’s something about the Worcester that brings out the beef!

This chilli can carry on cooking, unattended, on very low heat, until you’re ready to eat, but it’ll be ready in half an hour, no problem.

In a cereal/salad sized bowl, mix the following:

  • 2 scoops (about 1 cup) of the chilli from the pot
  • A generous handful (about ½ cup) shredded cheese
  • 1 tsp crème fresh or soured cream

This instantlyHand holding tortilla chip with dip cools the chilli, mellows any spices they may be adverse to, and makes a handy all-in-one burrito filler that avoids the cheese falling out! Spread the mixture onto a tortilla, wrap it up and cut (or don’t) depending on your kid’s fondness for forks. If there’s a little left over, it’s perfect for dipping tortilla chips for mom bites.

My hubby and I have a bowl of chilli with a handful of cheese, dab of crème fraîche and some crunched up tortilla chips on top. Great for next day lunches over a jacket potato or with a salad. We’ve even made nachos with tortilla chips and cheese for a heavenly snack. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Sparkly Mummy

A magical (and affordable) day out at Priory Farm

There are only a few days left of the summer holidays, and I’ve noticed that all the days out and extra childcare that summer entails are taking their toll on my wallet. When I had a chance to take my older son out last week, I was keen to find somewhere with free or very cheap admission.

We ended up at Priory Farm near Redhill, Surrey. If the weather is nice and your budget is tight, you can’t really beat this place for a day out in the Southeast.

We went on a weekday and arrived about 10am. At this time we had no trouble finding an excellent parking space, but there were absolutely loads available.

Just next to the car park is this huge pirate ship where the kids can play.

Pirate ship playground at Priory FarmThere is a coffee kiosk in the area and picnic benches so that parents can watch their kids play from a civilised distance whilst imbibing caffeine and/or cake. It also sells ice cream, in case you need to bribe your kids to leave the pirate ship.

My 4 year old had no trouble safely climbing around the ship on his own. A toddler would need closer supervision.

Right next to this play area is the entrance to the main attraction – the Discovery Walk. The Discovery Walk showcases the natural beauty of this property, set as it is with views over the Downs. But it offers more than just trees and flowers. Throughout the trail there are many things to climb, tunnels to explore and secrets to discover.

Before you start

The admission price is a very reasonable £2.50pp, which includes a treasure hunt for the kids. The standard treasure hunt features nature facts, but there are also themed hunts throughout the year. The one we did was all about the Olympics. Each stop on the hunt had a trivia question to answer (with some pretty obvious clues to help younger ones figure it out), along with a hint about how to find the next question. The price included a prize at the end, which was a small bag of sweets and a plastic gold medal like the ones you get at sport days. In my opinion, this place is very good value for money.

For an extra £1, you can get a bag of fish food, which I highly recommend, for reasons I’ll explain later.

I should also mention that the trail is relatively buggy-friendly (although I wouldn’t attempt it as the lone adult – better to have at least one friend to join you if you’re pushing a buggy as well as chasing after a child).

Highlights of the Discovery Walk

The first stop on the trail is this pretty little garden.

Wendy's garden at Priory Farm

After you leave the little garden, you turn the corner, and the next thing you see is a beautiful field of wildflowers. You walk past that to discover a teepee with a drum inside. Plan to spend a rather long time listening to your children banging the drum.

When you’ve managed to tear the kids away from the drum, you will encounter one of the absolute highlights of the park: a maze made of sunflowers instead of hedges. I’m a complete sucker for mazes of any type, but this one takes the biscuit. In this maze, on this day, I took probably one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken.

Sunflower
I totally put this on Instagram.

The maze has fun little hints to help you through, and spinners to help you choose your direction. My son loved this and felt a sense of achievement when we found our way out. It isn’t so big that you will be lost for an onerous amount of time.

After you leave the sunflower maze, there is a gentle hill to climb. This is the first time you’ll encounter one of these little balance beams.

Balance beam at Priory Farm

There are lots of little things like this to climb throughout the trail. They are great because it means you never have a long walk without encountering something that keeps the kids interested.

At the top of the hill, you will enter a little wood, in which the trees are labelled with their names (very educational), and there are many secrets to discover. They’ve built lots of little houses made of sticks, which may or may not be inhabited by faeries. I won’t ruin it by telling you all the details, but here is an example of one of the least elaborate ones. Faery house at Priory FarmThe trail through the woods leads you to an abandoned quarry, which contains some more surprises, and then you are invited to climb out of the quarry using a wooden climbing wall. There is a trail round if you can’t or don’t want to climb. I went ahead and climbed straight up, no doubt looking super mature and dignified as I did.

At the top of the hill, there are further things to climb, ways to make loud noises, secret tunnels to navigate, circles of standing stones, and more. Word to the wise: the tunnels might be very muddy on the bottom, even if the weather has been dry. My son could walk at full height through them but I had to maintain an awkward crouch in order to avoid getting filthy. Ouch, my aching middle-aged back! In retrospect, my son probably could have managed in there on his own, but just be prepared for possible crouching or extremely muddy knees if you need to retrieve your children from the tunnel.

Another real highlight for me was the Labyrinth. This bit is not buggy-friendly, or suitable for anyone who can’t balance or climb things. But it is totally worth it. Legend says that a dragon resides within.

The Labyrinth releases you into a beautiful fruit orchard. Look at the size of those plums!PlumsYou then make your way down a gentle slope to the fish pond. Here is where your fish food purchase comes into its own. The pond is well-stocked with fish and they are the greediest creatures you’ve ever seen. There are also lots of greedy ducks. The fish climb on top of each other, and the ducks climb on top of the fish as they all compete for a bit of your fish food. This is truly a spectacle to thrill kids and adults alike. I took some pictures but they just don’t do it justice – you need to see for yourself.

There are a few more surprises on the short walk after the fish pond, before you come to the exit of the Discovery Walk. It took us just over an hour, despite one of us having little legs. My son was having so much fun that he didn’t once complain about his little legs being tired (a complaint that happens for much shorter distances when he’s bored).

If you have more time…

There are loads of other things to do on this property that we didn’t have time for on this day. You can race rubber ducks down a little waterway. You can visit the garden centre and eat lunch at the cafe there, which has a large playground attached to it. And you could pop across the road to check out the Farm Shop.

The verdict

The fun we had at this attraction easily rivals that we’ve had at farm parks which charge four times more for entry. It is a unique place which has clearly had a huge amount of effort and love put into it. The result is a truly magical day out, with new things to discover around every corner.

Cuddle Fairy

A day of easy meals for busy days with the kids

Ok, these aren’t recipes, so much as assembly instructions, so I’ve decided to do a whole days worth of meal ideas. My husband travels a lot for work, so I’m a part-time lone parent, and therefore the only chef. Some days I need quick, but healthy meals that require little-to-no brain power. Here’s what a day after my husband has been gone for a week or two looks like in my house.

Breakfast: porridge (Americans call it oatmeal)

You’ll need:

  • 1 or 2 packets of plain/original/no flavour instant microwave porridge/oatmeal
  • 1 banana
  • 1 level tsp brown sugar or maple syrup
  • 6-10 fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 to 2 cups milk

Method:

Some people are against microwaves; I’m not one of them. Instant oats are awesome and can be made so many ways. I go for original so I can control the sugar. You can also use apple sauce instead of the banana, cinnamon apple sauce if the kids like it, and even jam or raisins. I don’t use the blueberries if I don’t have them on hand, but the banana is omnipresent.

Use a microwave-safe bowl that’s nice and deep, and depending on if you’re using 1 or 2 packets of oatmeal, use half or the whole banana.

Smash the banana with a fork until mostly smooth. Sprinkle or pour in the sugar or syrup and give it a quick stir.

Add in the dry oats and cover with cold milk.

Drop in fresh or frozen blueberries (or raisins), but a few will go far.

Give it all a final stir and cover with kitchen roll/paper towel in the microwave.

Cook on high for 1.5 min and then stir the mixture. If it’s already getting dry, add another splash of milk or water. Stick it back in the microwave for 1-2 minutes more, depending on whether you’ve used fresh or frozen berries.

oatmeal
Ok, so this isn’t exactly a food porn pic. It’s just oatmeal – but I promise it’s tasty.

Give the mixture a stir and try to squish a berry on the side of the bowl. It should explode easily and mix in pretty purple swirls. Let it rest for about 5 minutes.

Check the temperature; if it’s still too hot, feel free to add another slash of cold milk to cool it if the kids can’t wait.

If I use 2 packets, this will feed all three of us, easily. It’s an easy way to add fibre and potassium, vitamins and calcium to a one-bowl breakfast. And it’s something you can experiment with – use fruit you love!

Lunch: quesadilla and grapes

You’ll need:

  • 4 or 6 flour tortillas
  • 4 cups Red Leicester or Double Gloucester cheese, grated
  • Two handfuls of seedless grapes

Method:

Some people go for grilled/toasted cheese and soup as a lunchtime comfort meal. I grew up with quesadilla and grapes. The tortillas are lighter than bread, and you don’t need butter to toast it up. I lived in England long enough to know that Red Leicester and Double Gloucester cheeses are the creamier, less oil-producing cheeses perfect for this job. Trust me: ditch the cheddar just this once. And who doesn’t like cheese and grapes? The red seedless are my kids absolute favourite.

First things first, you can buy pre-shredded cheese, or grate your own, but be sure to grate straight from the fridge so it doesn’t smudge all over the grater.

Put a griddle or wide pan on to warm on a medium-low heat. No butter or oil necessary.

Put one tortilla onto the flat surface and pile shredded cheese onto the center.

Lightly spread the cheese towards the edges but don’t worry too much, it’ll spread as it melts.

cooking quesadillaTop it with a second tortilla and let it be for about a minute. Squish the top onto the bottom by pressing with your hand or a spatula, and then bravely flip the lot. It sounds scary, but using your hands isn’t crazy, because you can pinch the edges together and quickly flip the whole thing before it’s too hot. I pull it up, slide it towards me and then over backwards, reaching to the far side of the pan in a sort of wrist motion.

The cheese will start to melt nicely and the top tortilla can be pushed a bit to spread it, if you like. All in all, it shouldn’t take more than 3 or 4 minutes to have crispy outside and gooey inside.

Remove the quesadilla onto a cutting board and start again at the griddle for 1 or 2 more. Once slightly cooled, cut like a pizza into triangles and serve.

Give your grapes a wash and pat dry and serve along with the quesadilla. Serve with pressed juice watered down, and guacamole (if I can be bothered). I’ve also been known to spread a thin layer of refried beans onto the bottom tortilla; it adds protein and fibre, and helps the cheese stick for the first flip. I tend to keep a tin in the cupboard, and literally pop it open, stir a bit with a butter knife, and spread on like peanut butter. It may not look appetising, but it’ll add flavour and a bit of veg. You can use the rest of the tin to make chilli or burritos (watch this space for those recipes)! Quesadillas

Dinner: fish fillets, beans and mash

You’ll need:

  • 3-6 frozen fish fillets (fish fingers just don’t have enough fish for my liking – these still have crunch but more of the good stuff)
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • Knob of butter
  • Heaping tsp of soured cream
  • Tin of baked beans
  • Salt and pepper

Method

My kids routinely eat every morsel of sweet potato mash, but leave white mash on the plate. This ‘recipe’ is a great introduction to how naturally sweet these beauties can be.

Preheat the oven to the temperature recommended on the packet of fish (usually around 200c/390f).

Rinse your sweet potato and poke it in a few places, then put it in the microwave for about 3 minutes. You don’t want to cook it through – just get it started.

Spread your fish fillets onto the baking tray and into the oven once heated to temp.

Place a piece of aluminium foil onto the oven rack and the potato onto that. This will finish the sweet potato in time with the fish, and allows natural sugars to caramelise.

While the fish and potato bake, get your baked beans going on the stove (or microwave with a cover), to warm through. I used to add a tiny bit of brown sugar or maple syrup to baked beans in the UK, because I’m used to southern style beans, but use whatever tastes good to you.

Once you’ve removed the fish as per their instructions, check if the sweet potato is leaking juices – good stuff! The foil now comes in handy to save your oven from juices, and to help your oven mitt as you grab it out.

Let the fish cool and slice open the potato. Scoop it out of the skin and into a deep cereal bowl.

Add the butter and stir to smooth big lumps out of the potato.

Add the soured cream and stir well. You can add a splash of milk if you want a creamier mash; it usually depends on the potato itself.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Plate up the baked beans, cut the fish into bite-size pieces, add a scoop of mash, and Bob’s your uncle!

Mash is great ‘glue’ for beginner eaters. And the virtuous sweet potato has more vitamins and fewer carbs than white potato. Something we can all enjoy!

fish dinner

I’m not saying it’s the most creative menu, but it’s full of little cheats that keep me away from fast food. There’s a way to moderate the sugar and salt, get some nutrients into them, and it’s food I know they’ll eat. Sometimes that enough! 

Sparkly Mummy