bake-a-wishDo you miss the Bake Off? I do. Mid weeks are just not the same without that precious hour of sugar, butter and flour fuelled escapism.

Fear not though, baking need not have disappeared from your life altogether! To support the annual Bake-A-Wish fundraising, this October Fairy are partnering with Make-A-Wish® UK to encourage the nation to get their baking hats on and share their festive recipes, as part of a competition to find the UK’s best festive cake.

Inspiration comes from research that shows 35% of us don’t even like Christmas cake, and around two thirds of us are turning to less traditional alternatives, like chocolate cake or red velvet cake. Your recipe should be as imaginative as possible, and the competition closes on October 23rd, so get your special chef’s thinking cap on.

Maybe something like this?

Bake-a-wish fairy competition View Post

I came across an image this week which made me think “Yes! This is Belle! This is my life summed up in a postcard!”

This was it:

healthy eating tips
Does this sound familiar?

I had thought that by the age of 13, Belle would have grown out of her fussy eating. I imagined a gradual acceptance of onions in cooking, a growing fondness for courgettes, and friendly banter around the dining table where we looked back and laughed at her fussier days.

“How silly of me,” she would say, chomping her way through a kale salad, “to have been so fussy for all those years!”

Alas, that day has yet to come. Still, as a teenager, her list of acceptable vegetables is limited pretty much to:

  • Sweetcorn
  • Carrots
  • Spinach (raw, not cooked)

It’s not cool is it? The tricky bit for me lies in how far to push it. I appreciate that 50 years ago she would have just been made to sit at the table until she had finished, but we don’t live 50 years ago do we? We live in an era where ‘food issues’ are constantly on the horizon, especially with girls, and I worry that forcing her to eat something she doesn’t like will mean I’m responsible, later in life, for her crippling obesity/bulimia/inability to visit a supermarket without having a panic attack. (Delete as appropriate.)

Perhaps I just think about it too much.

I’ve decided though that the time has come to be a little more proactive about things. Being busy is no excuse for not making changes to our diet. I need to man up and remind Belle who’s boss. (I hope she doesn’t read this bit and shout at me.) The Co-op agreed to help me out with some ideas for recipes, snacks and easy switches, and so our 21 day food challenge begins. 

If your family diet could do with a kick up the bum, or that daily moan of ‘what’s for dinner?’ sends shivers down your spine, why not join me?

I’ve always been a fan of The Co-op. We’ve often had one just around the corner from us, which is very handy for me at 5pm when I still haven’t thought about what to have for tea, and I like their ethics, food wise. In theory it’s not hard to make changes; a handful of grapes here, a wedge of cucumber there – it shouldn’t take much to make a difference. The Co-op also have lots of recipe ideas, and plenty of Pinspiration.

healthy eating Pinterest

To kick start proceedings, I suggest keeping a diary of what your family eats for a few days. This was a horrible reality check for me, as I like to think I eat reasonably well. Oh how wrong I was. It’s shocking how easy it is to go a whole day and not eat any fruit…

This is a day from Belle’s diary, so you can see what I mean. (Please don’t report me to anyone):

  • Breakfast – a bowl of chocolate cereal, toast with butter, pineapple juice.
  • Packed lunch – cheese and ham sandwich, crisps, Babybel, yoghurt, satsuma, water. (I often find the fruit and three quarters of a bottle of water at the bottom of her school bag.)
  • After school snack – chocolate chip brioche.
  • Dinner – pasta (not wholemeal), sweetcorn, tinned tuna and pesto. Three chocolate truffles.

Now overall, it doesn’t feel hideous, fairly typical I would imagine, but let’s break it down…

I use the word chocolate three times. Not cool. Even counting the juice, she’s barely scraping two portions of fruit and vegetables on this day.

*takes a minute to reflect on parenting skills*

I then thought it might be a good idea, rather than just spying on what she ate, to ask Belle how she felt about her diet:

Over the next three weeks then we’ll be making an effort to eat better. This might be something as simple as switching from white to brown bread, or it might mean thinking more broadly about how we can encourage Belle to eat a wider variety of fruit and vegetables.

We’d love for you to join us, and share your tips and troubles as you progress, and to get you in the mood, we’re holding a Twitter chat this Tuesday at 1pm. Please RT the invitation and come along with your questions. Experts from The Co-operative will be on hand and I’ll be bringing 20 years of parenting wisdom/sympathy to the virtual table.

 In the meantime, please do leave a comment and tell me about the food issues in your family!

 

 

Project in partnership with The Co-operative Food.

When I was a teenager, I remember waking up every morning and feeling starving. By 7.15am I would be in the kitchen already, with a bowl piled high with cereal, pasta or noodles. It was a proper carb craving – a need to fill my tummy with as much stodge as possible.

I reflect fondly, and attribute it to a growth spurt, but I suspect I was just a greedy guts. (I was a fairly podgy pre-teen.)

Nowadays though, it’s a different story. When I wake up, the idea of food quite turns my stomach. It makes me feel like one of those old people who fusses about, refusing to eat anything other than a couple of ginger biscuits mid-morning but for at least an hour, usually two, I just don’t fancy eating at all. Fine, you might think, don’t eat, but this is actually quite inconvenient.

Think about it – where are you two hours after you get up if you’re a busy, professional working girl type like me? Chances are you’re not handily placed next to your fridge any more. Normally at the point at which I get hungry, I’m at my desk, in the car, in a meeting or on a train, none of which are the optimal locations for making toast.

What normally happens then is that I spend unnecessary money on unsuitable snacks, or, when I’m feeling poor, I eat handfuls of dry cereal from the box I keep under my desk. That doesn’t do much for my self-esteem to be honest. It makes me feel like a bit of a tramp.

But wait! What’s that breakfasty apparition on the horizon? It’s Up & Go, Australia’s number one breakfast, and it’s landed in the UK!

Up & Go

I tried to make my carton of Up & Go a little super hero cape but fear it looks more like a bad nativity costume.

Up & Go is breakfast on the go, designed to save you time in the mornings without compromising on nutrition. Every carton contains as much fibre, protein and calcium as your average bowl of cereal and milk, so it’s basically a bowl of cereal in a box. Brilliant for me, as I once did actually try to take a bowl of cereal with milk on a train, in a tub, and it wasn’t very nice/easy to eat.

It’s ideal for busy parents on school mornings, or for when you need to grab something in a hurry, but for me it’s all about the portability. Being able to pop a carton in my bag, knowing I can drink it later in the morning when I get hungry, is fantastic. Not only does it mean I have a more nutritionally balanced breakfast, but it means I can drink it when I want, where I want, which is exactly what I’ve been doing this week.

Up & Go

The other boon of course is that it’s perfect to give to Belle when I’ve not quite got round to buying things for breakfast (*cough*) or we’re in a little bit of a rush. Which is often.

I don’t know why she pulls a face when I suggest, for the fifth morning in a row, when she complains yet again about the lack of breakfast options, that she whip up a bowl of porridge, but pull a face she does.

Not any more.

There’s something about the idea of it being in a carton that definitely appeals to her too. It’s like I’ve suggested she have a milkshake for breakfast. Little does she know that it actually has nutritional value.

We’ve both really enjoyed our Up & Go breakfasts; I’ve found that a cheeky carton at around 10am is ideal to tide me over until lunchtime and Belle no longer scowls at me like I’m scum of the earth everyday at 8am.

As you can see from their ad, they don’t take themselves too seriously either, and I really like the branding:

Up & Go comes in six delicious flavours; chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, banana & honey, mixed berry and coffee. Predictably the chocolate and the coffee are my favourite, but they are all very tasty. It’s available in nearly all of the major supermarkets – look for it in the cereal aisle.

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Do you have a favourite family recipe? We have a few. ‘Fridge pasta’ is one of them, which consists of pasta, plus whatever we can find in the fridge. ‘Crap from the freezer’ is another favourite. I think you can guess what that involves, suffice to say a lot of things tend to be covered in breadcrumbs.

When Bee came home a few months ago for her 20th birthday, she had a request of her own. “Can we have the thing with the noodles?” she asked. I knew what she meant. It’s a dish I made up when she was small and we were poor, that basically involves cooking up some noodles, mixing them with a tin of condensed tomato soup, covering the lot with cheese, and baking in the oven.

It sounds like it might be a bit gross, but it’s actually amazing. The noodles sort of swell up and form this wonderful consistency, and you can pretty much slice the thing that comes out of the oven, like a pie. Once you start eating it, it’s hard to stop.

The beauty of the dish though is that you can customise it according to your own tastes and what you have in the house. Sometimes, if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll add some fried onion, or maybe some sweetcorn. The world is your oyster. 

This versatility is what inspired me to add an Italian twist on the recipe for the Expedia World on a Plate Challenge, using a nice tomato sauce instead of my usual cheap soup, and incorporating some other Italian ingredients. 

(NB. Obviously the world is too big to fit on a standard dinner plate. Don’t try this at home.) View Post

This review has been written by my fiancé, in lieu of him having to cook us tea…

When I moved in with Jo and Belle, I was adamant that I wanted to do my fair share around the house.

“You can cook supper, Jo said, almost before I had finished asking what she’d like me to do, “I’ve always hated having to think about that”.

Sure. What’s so hard about that? I felt I’d got off lightly. I started perusing the internet for wholesome yet tasty recipes, and even started ploughing my way through recipes in a new cook book. What a fool. Cut to a month or so later, and the end of a stressful day at work and I’ve walked home through the rain. I get through the front door, peel off my wet jacket and put my bag down.

“Hello”, I say, wearily.

“What’s for tea?” Belle asks, without raising her eyes from her iPad.

“I’m not quite sure yet. I’ll have a think about it”.

I’m met with a look that could have killed. It tells me how ridiculous it is that I haven’t been planning some culinary masterpiece since the second I finished wrapping up sandwiches for packed lunches that morning.

Jo is smiling. “Welcome to my world” she whispers, and with that, I understand.

It’s not so much the cooking, it’s the thinking. I’m well aware that there are far worse aspects of parenting, that I’ve spectacularly avoided or side-stepped, but I do get why this is something Jo can do without.

Recently, there has been a spurt of new restaurants opening in Taunton and we’ve been lucky enough to try some of them out. It’s popular with everyone in the house. Belle, because the food is prettier, more exciting and nicer than mine, Jo, also because of the above and because it’s an outing, and me – because I don’t have to think about it. 

The Italian chain, Ask, has been coming to Taunton for a while, and as the evening of our free meal approached, I wondered how they could possibly have turned Taunton’s Old Post Office into a restaurant. Surely it wasn’t big enough, and how could they have got rid of that rather soulless feeling?

I don’t know quite how to articulate how good a job they’ve done. Firstly, it doesn’t feel like another Italian chain. The design spec and the quality of the finish is superb. We’ve been to a couple of places recently that looked okay, but after a few minutes we started to list the tiny glitches and faults. Not so in Ask. Everything from the flooring to the bar tiles, to the glasses to the cutlery, was stylishly put together, without feeling like a formula that you’d find in every other town in the country. It feels like Mad Men meets Breakfast at Tiffany’s meets glorious Technicolor. In fact, it feels like Jo designed the place, and that’s the highest praise I can give.

 

The girls are looking at the menu, which is varied and well balanced. I’m so hungry I would be happy with pretty much any dish on the menu. Belle has her serious face on – after all, these decisions are very important. We choose a variety of dishes (and wine) from the menu so that we can say we’ve tried most types of dish – fish, pasta, meats and of course, pizza.  

 

Bucket of wine at @askitalian – don’t mind if I do. A photo posted by Josephine Middleton (@slummysinglemummy) on

 

Belle is my pizza hero. We have the same tastes in what we like on them, and she always leaves me some of hers. Recently, she created a pizza especially for me, and it is in the top five meals I’ve ever eaten. Luckily, Ask didn’t let Belle or the rest of us down. The food was delicious. On any other day of the week there is no way we’d have tackled pudding, but for the sake of research we felt we had to indulge.

 

*happy sigh* A photo posted by Josephine Middleton (@slummysinglemummy) on

 

Before our outing, I thought Taunton didn’t need any more Italian restaurants. I left knowing that Taunton did need this Ask. It’s bright and friendly, and the food was delicious. We’ll definitely be going back, perhaps the next time I forget to think about what is for supper at home. Either that, or when the girls can face no more of my cooking.

Thank you to Ask for inviting us as their guests for a meal.