31 May 2010

Spot the difference

April 2010

May 2010

At last! Some summery weather. So we headed down to the allotment, and did battle with the weeds. Everything's grown remarkably well over the last couple of weeks while we were in France - lots of green strawberries (hopefully turning red shortly), some gooseberries that are nearly ready to become jam, and the best chard I've seen for a long time:

14 May 2010

In which I meet Annabel Karmel...

As you may have guessed from yesterday's post, I had an exciting day in London on Wednesday, when I headed down to the launch of Annabel Karmel's latest book (Annabel Karmel's Top 100 Pasta Dishes).

I'd never been to a book launch before, so had no idea what to expect. Thankfully for a book launch all about food, it involved lots of cooking (and most importantly - eating!).

When M was small, a friend gave me Annabel's Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner - and it was excellent. It's really good for giving you ideas of things you can mix together in purees, and for giving you an idea about quantities - I'd no clue how much a 6-month-old baby could eat, or indeed how many carrots/bananas/apricots that would take.

But since M was a year or so old, we've all eaten together - so I've never really gone back to any of Annabel's baby/toddler recipes, or thought to hunt any more of hers out. So it was interesting to see some of her more family-oriented food at this launch.

She started off the session by cooking pork and beef meatballs with tagine sauce - which looked dead easy. I loved the fact that the sauce is made with chopped tomatoes and butternut squash (one of my favourite vegetables, but one that M hates - cannily hidden here by blending). However, the final dish was too bland for me - the spice content would definitely have to be upped in our house.

Next, we had a go at cooking along with Annabel, making pasta salad with marinated chicken and roasted peppers. Here's the three stooges (hello Nova and Young Mummy!) chopping peppers and trying not to laugh at the absurdity of having your every move followed by a camera crew and photographer:

I have to say, the pasta salad was delicious (and I scoffed the lot on the train home later). It'd be great for lunchboxes (my next delight once M starts school in the autumn), and had one of my favourite veg (pea shoots), and a lovely marinade.

Next, we watched Annabel produce some pasta , and make spinach and ricotta ravioli. I've got a pasta machine that's currently gathering dust in the cupboard, and had forgotten how much fun making the dough is. Mind, I realised on the train home that you could just make ravioli by finding some very thin fresh lasagne sheets - which would make the recipe even easier. Here's Annabel and a very long piece of pasta:

We had a go at making the ravioli too, with some pre-prepared sheets of pasta. Here's my attempt (which sadly died on the train journey home, so I have yet to report on how it tastes):

All in all, it was a great session, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Here's me, and a teeny-tiny Annabel (if I'd known there were going to be so many photographers/film crew there, I'd have slung a bit of lippy on, but there you go):

I reckon it's a good book - lots of interesting recipes that you could cook for everyone. I would never have thought of buying it for us (I have several hundred cookbooks, most of which don't go down the 'family' angle), but we'll definitely give some of the recipes a go - especially the more 'lunchbox' variety. It'd also be really good for folk who have fussy kids (start 'em on pasta - who knows where they'll end up?), or who are looking for recipes that can feed a toddler tea before a grown-up one.

Drawbacks? The portion sizing isn't particularly clear (it's easy enough in the baby section to see that it's 4 baby portions or whatever, but in the general recipes there's no clue given as to whether you're feeding 4 adults, 4 toddlers or a mixture of the two). And the other half wasn't particularly enamoured of the look and feel of the book (it's apparently something that dads would definitely not pick up off the shelf) - although the photography is great.

It'll be interesting to see what angle Annabel does next - she's written 19 books, and shows no signs of stopping...

13 May 2010

Annabel Karmel book launch

Here's Annabel Karmel demonstrating some pasta recipes at the launch of her new book yesterday (she's making meatballs here, by the way). I've got a whole blog post to come about the launch (including a terrible picture where I look like a giant - Annabel is teeny tiny, it's not just me), but here's a sneak peek for you:

Books, books and more books (part 2)

The lovely people at Random House sent me and M another book to review last week. You remember the fantastic Box of Tricks? Well this is by the same author, the very talented Katie Cleminson. Called Wake Up: It’s going to be a busy day… it tracks a little boy through his daily routine from getting up to going to school to going to bed – accompanied by elephants, hippos, lions and cats.

The drawings are beautiful (the cat was a huge hit with M), and the juxtaposition of the animals, boy and daily life provoked gales of laughter – especially the tea time scenes. I loved the boy/cat stretches as well. She’s not the best writer of rhymes (I suspect Julia Donaldson wins that crown hands down), but the drawings are so charming that you forgive her the occasional bump in the text.

Thoroughly recommended, anyway, by M (age 4) and me (age 36).

11 May 2010

How to encourage small children to swim (not)

We tried out the new x-million pound Gateshead Leisure Centre yesterday - and came away not very impressed. It tries hard....but fails on lots of counts if you're wanting to get a small child to swim.

On the plus side, the water's far warmer than it ever used to be (Byker pool, take note). And everything's clean, bright and obviously reasonably well-specced. But there's some glaring problems that make you think that whoever planned the refit really didn't think about small children:

(a) Signage. Now I know small children can't always read - but for the poor parents trogging around carrying towels, bags, small children, it would be really useful if things like the pool, toilets etc were properly signposted. There's a couple of signs, tops.

(b) Small pool: yes, it's beautifully clean. But there's nowhere to put towels/bags etc apart from on the (damp) floor. It's freezing cold when you get out of the water with a small child - you need something to wrap them up in straightaway (given that you'll be wandering the corridors for a while to find your way back to your locker - see above).

(c) While I'm on the subject of lockers - it's a complete rip-off that you have to buy a token at reception for 20p on top of the price of the swim. Why not just include it in the price?

(d) Showers. Lots of 'em. Good....apart from the fact that they're set way too high in the wall, and spray water indiscriminately. You try getting a freezing cold small child under one without it wailing.

My verdict? Could do better. We're going back to Birtley (until it too is refitted out of existence).

UPDATE: I emailed Gateshead Customer Services, and was called back very speedily by Brian Hewitson, the centre manager. We had a great discussion, and he's thinking about the issues above (especially where to put your towels by the small pool, and the signage). Apparently the disabled showers (which would be useful for small children) were installed last week, but ripped off the wall on Sunday... (I sometimes despair of Gateshead residents).

Anyway, a great example of (a) how commenting/complaining/making your point heard can see results and (b) good customer service on behalf of Gateshead Council.

07 May 2010

Lots to do

My to-do list for this weekend is ever-increasing. So far, it reads:

  • review the latest Katie Cleminson book which the lovely people at Random House have just sent to M
  • get down to the allotment and start on the endless weeding, or else it'll just be a jungle down there
  • keep up with my French tapes (ah, the wonders of Michel Thomas...shortly to be followed by some BBC French and possibly some free Open University stuff)
  • work (boo hiss) - a little light proofreading, and some updating of e-learning materials
  • hoovering (yawn)
  • knit the sleeves of M's new ballet wrap (which will be ready by December at this rate)
  • keep up-to-date with the election news
  • sleep
Somewhere, I also need to fit in cooking some meals, playing with M and having some grown-up conversations with her dad. I might even want to watch some telly.

Argh. I'll get back to you on all this....