Thursday, 25 April 2013

Muuuuum, can we have a puppy please?

The majority of the mummies I know have stopped having babies. Instead many of their homes are now enjoying the pitter patter of tiny paws as a cute-as-you-like puppy joins the family. I have to admit I’m quite jealous. I would love to have a dog again – my faithful German Shorthaired Pointer died when my first child was a babe in arms. And that baby is now a seven-year-old daughter who is desperate for me to take the plunge again.

Officially the world's best dog - ever.
To be honest, I feel a little odd without a canine companion. This is probably because I was raised by dogs. Well, not literally – I don’t walk on all fours and greet my friends by sniffing their backsides (I don't) – but from age eleven I was raised alongside dogs. In a house that prioritises dogs and revolves around dogs. My parents breed, show, work, train and judge them. My mum spends her time organising dog events and attending them, promoting welfare and then discussing all this with like-minded pooch obsessives over the phone or Internet. Accordingly, my first ‘proper’ job was at Dog World, which produces Britain’s best-selling weekly canine newspaper (although I worked on a title about fish…).
But despite the fact I kinda want a dog and my daughter so very definitely wants a dog, I still feel some reluctance. I put this down to the fact that getting a dog is such a huge commitment. First you need the time and energy to be able to train a puppy properly, and then you need the time and energy to make sure the adult dog it grows into is taken care of properly. For maybe about 15 years! I haven’t even been married as along as that…
In the meantime, my daughter and I have spent hours poring over her dog breed encyclopaedia looking for a good-natured variety that won’t need excessive amounts of grooming or walking. While my heart belongs to pointers and vizslas (the breed I grew up with), realistically I don’t have the outdoors lifestyle and access to the acres of woodland that they need. At the moment the breed that seems most likely to suit us is the whippet. In general a whippet is lively but not too overwhelming for a household with very small members and visitors, his/her exercise needs are not extreme but still require you to go for a good walk twice a day and the short hair means the vacuuming won’t increase ten-fold. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

She won't be as pleased when she sees what they've done to her high heels...
But I remain hesitant (which must be torture for my optimistic offspring). So many days of my childhood were curtailed because of ‘the dogs’. Any teenage shopping trip was cut short to return to walking duties, friends could be reluctant to come round if they weren’t too keen on overzealous hounds jumping up and even when I suggested a date for my wedding there was a sigh because it clashed with an important dog show. Seriously.
Because, if you’re doing it right, being a dog owner is much the same as having a child. You made the decision to welcome it into your home and so the buck stops with you. If your dog chews up your shoes it’s less because he/she is a monster and more because you’ve left that dog unattended and bored for long enough it went to look for something to do. Chewing is something to do. If your dog howls so much the neighbours complain, you have to ask yourself where you were all that time. If your dog is fat, not only do you have to pick up the poo and the vet bills, you are to blame. It’s all about the guilt trip.

And that’s what I’m wondering. Do I really need to put myself under any more pressure? I don’t want to be the lady in the park with the unruly dog, any more than I want to be the parent with the disruptive child at school. It’s bad enough when your kids don’t listen to you – imagine standing in a field calling your dog’s name endlessly while it buggers off in the opposite direction. And I’m pretty sure you can’t bribe a dog to behave well in public by promising some extra pocket money.

But there’s definitely space in my heart for a dog – and surely it must just be a matter of time before my head comes round. I still talk to a lot of the dog owners at the park, and regularly get what I can only describe as ‘dog envy’ when there’s a new pup on the block, pulling at its lead, all big paws and enthusiastic eyes. One day, I tell myself, one day…
How about you - do you kids want a furry or feathery addition to the family? And have you succumbed? Let me know in the comment box below.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Enough already with the cupcakes!!

A major source of tension in this house is fussy eating. My youngest is basically a cheesy pasta addict. She’s happy to eat a variety of fruit and veg, whole wheat pasta and rice, wholemeal bread, yoghurt, baked beans and hummus but resists meat and fish and any form of potato (yes, even chips). Occasionally she will manage a sausage, provided it is not over-cooked, or even a meatball when pushed (not literally you understand, although it is tempting…).
Learning to cook from scratch

While most of what she is eats is relatively healthy – and oddly the types of food other parents often struggle to get their kiddos to eat – I would truly like to see her sample chicken or salmon and maybe even mix those items in among the whole grains and veg.
I’ve tried bribing with stickers, monetary rewards, chocolate – and I’ve tried showering her with attention and ignoring any undesirable foodie reactions. I’ve made ‘fun’ faces with food and put it on pretty plates; I’ve invited teddies and dolls to tea, put tiny amounts on her plate to avoid freaking her out and sat her near ‘good’ eaters – all with very little success. And I’d like to point out that I weaned her 'correctly', offering cubes of homemade purees according-to-Annabel as was the prevailing advice then (although baby-led weaning sounds a whole lot easier to me!!).
I am now resigned to the fact that she is what I refer to as a ‘Fanny fusspants’ and won’t change until she wants to. Or is ready to.
To be honest her elder sister was very similar. Cheesy pasta was also the dish of choice (maybe I just do really good cheesy pasta??), with chicken and fish fingers acceptable plus lots of fruit and veg and lots of yoghurts. And I’m pleased to say she grew out of it at some point (that I can’t even remember because I stopped stressing about it) and the other day even shared a Thai curry I’d cooked myself (I must have eaten a hundred of those while I was pregnant since it is my personal fave).
In fact during the Easter holidays I set my eldest daughter up on the Cook 5 scheme to encourage her to learn how to cook a variety of everyday recipes such as Bolognese and scrambled eggs. One of my most shocking moments in a supermarket was when a teenage checkout girl asked me if the parsnips I was buying were ‘some sort of white carrots or something?’ And I’m still frequently shocked when I realise many adults I know can’t cook – unless it involves opening a jar of ready-made sauce, moving simply from the freezer to the oven or stabbing a plastic cover. Although they do have miles tidier kitchens than me…
Not what is meant by 'food pyramid'...
I was lucky; I learnt full-on ‘domestic science’ at secondary school. And I was a bit of a teacher’s pet too. As well as being taught about conduction (hob), radiation (grill) and convection (oven), we were taught the basics – how to make several types of sauce, how to make different pastries, how to meal plan and how to store food hygienically. And it has actually proved a lot more useful than the simultaneous equations and iambic pentameters I learnt in other classes.
And since fashions come and go, it seems general food ignorance and rising child obesity (alongside the shock people seemed to suffer when they discovered lazy and low-price processed food tends to be full of the cheapest crap the producers can get their unwashed hands on) encouraged the government do some research. And it discovered that a shocking 60 per cent of pupils were leaving school unable to make a basic meal (although I suspect they all knew how to dial for a pizza). The government promptly put proper cooking back on the curriculum.
And it’s about time. For too long anything encouraging kids to cook has been focussed around bloomin’ cupcakes and cookies. Every book I’ve bought or been given that has a cute mummy/daughter (cliché anyone?) pic on the front seems to involve icing cakes or decorating biscuits. Because kids just don’t get enough sugar and fat in their diets do they? Even titles aimed at adults tend to focus on baking rather than cooking, often with a retro feel –as if everyone in the 1950’s did nothing but pop on a floral pinny and whip up a Victoria sponge dripping with jam and cream (they didn’t because rationing didn’t end until 1954 – and sugar and butter were some of the last items to come off rations!).
This is why I was attracted to the Cook 5 scheme. It aims to teach kids how to cook meals – not snacks and treats. There’s everything from filled jacket potatoes and penne with tomato sauce to various ways to cook salmon fillets. Once a child has uploaded photos of their resulting five creations they get a certificate. And further down the line there are cash prizes for recipes that earn online ‘likes’ and a massive dollop of dosh for the school that gets the most pupils uploading dishes.
I’m sort of hoping that the enthusiasm my elder daughter is showing in these new and varied dishes will at least pique the interest of her sister. Meanwhile my mini chef is learning about real food – how to buy it and how to cook it and hopefully won’t find herself struggling to learn nutrition retrospectively as an adult roly poly dependent on ready meals. And I’ll personally make sure she knows what a parsnip is…

What's your opinion on fast food and rising obesity? Do we all need to re-educate ourselves Mrs Beeton style? Comments in the box below please.