Sticky ribs


Since February, Bert’s been going to the pre-school attached to our local primary two days a week and the nursery he’s been at since he was 10 months old for one day a week. He’s always gone in fine but claims to have no friends there (other than a mysterious girl called ‘Bert’). It’s a lovely place – a bit more formal and school-like than his old nursery, but brilliant in lots of ways and they made him very welcome. Even though he’s consistently said he preferred the old place, we put that down to it being so much more familiar. The logic was that starting at the local pre-school would make it far easier for him to settle at primary school next September. This September he’s due to have all of his three days at the new place – they’re so booked up that they didn’t have the third day available till now. Not only is it lovely but it’s a walk rather than a drive away, the day’s slightly longer, finishing at 4.30, so I get more work done, and it’s cheaper. I’d walk the dog there and back with Bert, giving me a full, uninterrupted eight hours to work. Win win win.

However. Even though he’s perfectly settled at the new place, he’ll still tell me that he likes the old one better. On a nursery day he’d ask which it was and, if it was an ‘old school’ day, he’d cheer and say ‘thanks, Mum!’ When he rang his dad at work and told him, very seriously, that he preferred ‘old school’ I began to wonder if we just weren’t listening. This coincided with the day they painted his nails bright pink, a sweet thing that was nothing to do with Learning Journeys and which he really loved, and him making all kinds of new friends there – he’d come home and tell me about the new friend he’d made most days (and none were girls called Bert). The second I sent the ‘old school’ an email confirming that he’d be leaving I started to have doubts. Why weren’t we listening to him? If he really preferred the old place that much, maybe their learning style of free play and creativity just suited him better. Weren’t there years and years for him to get used to more a formal way of learning? If anything, I think children are forced to start that too soon at five. I asked him again which he preferred and asked if he could pick one, which he’d choose. No hesitation – old school.

Many long conversations with his dad later, I did the deed and arranged for him not to go back to ‘new school’ for the start of the new term in September and to do all three days a week at ‘old school’ instead. Heart-warmingly, ‘old school’ were thrilled – three members of staff came up to me to tell me how excited and happy they were.

I gave Bert the good news when I picked him up. His lip wobbled. ‘But I like new school! I like new school better now!’ he said and literally stamped his feet.

Today I drove him to ‘old school’ and he looked out of the window and casually said, ‘you’re going the wrong way.’ ‘Huh?’ I said, though Bert is not averse to a bit of patronising back-seat driving. ‘New school’s that way,’ he pointed, accurately, and went back to his iPad.

This is a BBC Good Foods recipe. You can double the quantity of ribs with the same amount of marinade.

Serves 3-4

500g passata

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespooons soy sauce

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon Worcester sauce

500g pork ribs

Combine all the ingredients and cook in a baking tray, covered in foil, at gas mark 6 (200 degree) for 30 minutes, then bake for another hour. We had ours with egg fried rice.

 

Yoghurt bread

Bert’s first loaf of bread (with a bit of help measuring) – he’s very proud.

Two hours after this photo was taken he was naked in the kitchen, slice of warm bread in hand, singing ‘go mummy! Go mummy!’ as I chased a fly around the kitchen with a fly swat muttering I will beat you. Making memories.

Makes one loaf

350g strong white bread flour

250ml hand hot water

1 teaspoon caster sugar

1 teaspoon salt

7g (1 sachet) dried yeast

75g Greek yoghurt

Mix all the ingredients together and knead for about 5 minutes or till stretchy. Cover and leave for an hour then tip onto a lined tray to form a mound and bake at 140/ gas mark four for an hour. Have a slice, still warm, in your pyjamas (or, indeed, nudie).

This is a Jack Monroe recipe.

Courgette fritters


I thought this was worth a try and tried to sell them in as ‘big, round chips’. Fail. 

Here he is, complete with the hot pink manicure nursery gave him today (I’ll miss their sweet, random activities when he leaves – it’s like the kids run it. The other day all the children came up with a list of rules, like they live in a tiny commune – most involved trying to resist the urge to be violent). It was film night, Bert’s choice; Boss Baby (don’t bother).

Makes 4

1 small courgette (from our garden!), coarsely grated 

Leaves of a spring of mint, finely chopped

25g (about a tablespoon) plain flour

1 egg

25g grated Parmesan 

Salt and pepper 

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying

Mix everything but the oil together and heat the oil in a large frying pan till it’s good and hot. Drop in spoonfuls of mixture, flatten and fry for a couple of minutes on each side till golden. 

Roast rhubarb puree


Another attempt to bring fresh fruit and veg back into Bert’s life. Bert refused to eat it – I went away, stirred half a teaspoon of strawberry jam in and he declared it ‘very nice’.

We just spent two weeks at a friends house on an island off the coast of France, stopping for the night on the way at a chateau with a pool, swings, a trampoline and bunk beds behind a hidden door. The highlight of Bert’s holiday? ‘The iPad’.

Serves 2

80g rhubarb, cut into 2cm pieces

40g golden caster sugar

30g butter

Roast at 180/ gas mark 4 for 10-15 minutes, till softened, then puree and stir through Greek yoghurt, custard or whipped cream.

Courgette macaroni cheese


We’ve just got back from our holiday where Bert ate, over the course of two weeks, two family-size packs of crisps, the inside of half a baguette, half a jar of nutella, 14 ice creams, 30 yoghurts and one grain of rice.

I’m trying to get him back on decent carbs and protein before he loses his characteristic sturdiness and the dimples on his knuckles.

He also invented a new card game he called Mojo (the opposite of snap – shout Mojo when the cards don’t match) [me, feeling sure I’ve never said the word ‘mojo’ in my life: where did you get that word from? Bert: blank face], learnt to swim with a float vest on [me: you’re really good at that! Bert: yes I am really good at that], and invented a chilling game with the toy sword that we found in the pool. The latter involves stabbing a person or toy repeatedly, then saying ‘it’s cutting time’ and cutting across their jugular with the bottom of the sword, announcing ‘I’m going to eat you’ and then slicing down the stomach and bending over to eat the entrails. [Me, in a high, tight voice: where did you hear those words? Bert: blank face]. Maybe reincarnation is a fact and Bert was once… a cavalier soldier? A cannibal? A zombie? Or maybe nursery carry out some awfully vivid history sessions.

Anyway, it’s courgette time!

Serves 4

1 courgette, coarsely grated (peeled too, if you’re living with a massive veg avoider)

1 dessert spoon each of butter and olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Macaroni (about 400g for 4 servings)

1 spring mint, leaves finely chopped

Salt and pepper

300g creme fraiche

125g grated mozzerella

60g grated parmesan

Finely grated zest of a lemon

3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs to top

Gently fry the courgette in the butter and oil with the garlic until soft (about ten minutes) while you cook the pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste, and the finely chopped leaves of a spring of mint (I debated this ingredient since Bert can spot a strand of green a mile off, but I figured he eats pesto so I threw it in). Combine with creme fraiche, mozzerrella and half the parmesan and tip into an overproof dish. Top with the breadcrumbs, lemon zest and the rest of the parmesan.

At this point I left it to finish off later.

Pre heat the oven to 180/ gas mark 4. Cook for 10-15 minutes, if cooking straight from prepping it while it’s still warm, or 20-25 if cooking from cold.

We had ours with green beans; whole, boiled veg being less alarming than those drenched in sauce.

After moaning that he didn’t like it, he ate it all.

Mango muffins


Here’s Bert at an outdoor performance of The Wind in the Willows (or The Wind in the Willies, as my phone desperately wants it to be called).

When I asked him if he enjoyed it he said, ‘yes and no’. The muffins were a yes though.

Makes 12 muffins

240g plain flour

160g golden caster sugar

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

75g sunflower oil

4 tablespoons plain yoghurt

2 eggs

250g fresh mango, diced (about one of those lazy, ready prepared punnets – you’ll need to dice it a bit more finely though, into 1cm cubes, more or less).

Flaked almonds to scatter on top.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/ 190 degrees and grease your muffin tin or fill them with muffin cases.

Mix together the dry ingredients and then stir through the beaten eggs, oil and yoghurt. Mix in the diced mango (or diced tinned peach, if you prefer). Spoon carefully into the muffin holes and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 25-30 minutes. 

Bert ate six of these.

Lemony hummous


We allow Bert’s tummy to say no to more food if he’s full, but recently his tummy’s been on a power trip, losing all sense of justice and prorportion – today it’s said no to saying sorry, having a bath and switching off the TV.

Homemade hummous can be a bit sticky and heavy. Adding a bit of water gets the lighter, whippier texture that the shop-bought stuff has. But still Bert’s tummy said no. Mine said yes.

Served me

1 tin chickpeas, drained

1 clove garlic, peeled

Juice of half a lemon, finely grated zest of half a lemon 

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

Splash of water from the tap

Put everything except the water into a blender and blend till smooth. Then add a splash of water and blend again till smooth and whippy, adding a little more if necessary.