Here’s how to be a Finnish parent: kalsarikänni

A few years ago, a quiet country called Finland came to world attention suddenly: from relative obscurity, its education system was suddenly hailed as the best in the world.   One was the documentary, Waiting for Superman, about the poor state of American education (despite the No Child Left Behind policy and large investment in education), and the second was the stellar performance of Finnish students in PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment.

I was in Asia at that time, with three or four school aged children in a very competitive, academic school. I looked on with bemusement as folks here scrambled like lemmings to emulate Finland’s success. There’s even a Chinese word for it, kiasu, meaning ‘afraid to lose’.

Private schools and international schools of course capitalised on this kiasu-ness of parents. Words such as lifelong learner, problem-solver, resilient thinker, etc began popping up in marketing material, vocabulary and curricula already laden with homework, tuition, assignments, more tuition.

And here’s the thing: I think these schools AND parents who are suddenly longing for Finnish education are schizophrenic. They want to emulate Finland’s success, but the very nature of Finland’s success when it comes to education is its non-competitive nature:

  1. There are no mandated, standardised tests in Finland except for ONE exam at the end of a student’s senior year in high school;
  2. There are no rankings, no comparisons, no competitions amongst students, teachers or schools;
  3. If one method doesn’t work for a student, try something else rather than beating him/her to finish first amongst the strong finishers.

My view as a mother of five who have always been keenly involved in education (I was a school governor of my children’s school in Portsmouth) is that pushy parents and relaxed Finnish style education simply do not mix. You have more chance of mixing oil with water.

Finnish children climb trees. Finnish children use sharp blades to build their own playhouses. Finnish children don’t go for tuitions. Finnish children don’t spend all their hours indoors. And most of all, Finnish parents simply don’t compare …. since comparison is not in the national ethos.

Equality is the most important word in Finnish educationOlli Lukkainen, president of Finland’s teaching union.

And as we well know, it all starts from the home though of course, schools and national education systems do have some impact on how your child will turn up. But I would always maintain that parents are the main teachers.  Your ideologies, your values, your ethos and your philosophies shape your child’s psyche as surely as the river shapes the landscape it flows through every day. If you are pushy, stressed out, competitive about your kid’s exam scores, you’re not going to have a relaxed, happy, curious kid with an inquiring mind. Your kid would be too afraid to fail (or worse still, not care a jot about failing) have the time and space to explore, expand, formulate, rationalise, grow….because all his/her available resource would be invested into the pointless task beating the exams and beating “competitors” rather than actual learning.

So, in the interest of education, let me share with you the mindset of the Finnish people that perhaps is the key factor to the success of the Finnish education system: kalsarikänni.

It basically means sitting around in the home, drinking beer in your underpants, watching some TV maybe. Yes, I kid you not. But at the heart of kalsarikänni is optimal peace of mind, comfort and equilibrium.

Here’s an enlightened article about it in The Guardian, written by the Finnish author Miska Rantanen:

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Though I have just learned about the word for this particular way of being only a couple of days ago, it is something that my children’s father and I have always practised in parenting: I never go to school meetings with my children’s teachers (my communication with my children are honest and frequent enough for me to know if there is a need for my intervention) and my children’s father often (like four days a week) took my youngest to the pub after work when she was young. Even the damn dog went to the pub in Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. I wrote about my daughter’s beermat-flipping skills (as the result of spending 4 days a week waiting for her father to finish drinking with his mates in the pub) in my book. She actually did most of her homework and studying in the pub.

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So why am I so chilled? Because my thesis is that a happy, well-balanced, and kind child with good social skills will always succeed as an adult So focus on the important bits.  Take a leaf out of the book of the Finns. Relax. The more you try to grab hold of something, the more it seeps out of your fingers like sand.

Here’s something for you to think about:

Schools are not just places for transmitting technical know-how. They must also be places where children can learn to be happy, loving, and understanding, where teachers nourish their students with their own insights and happiness.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, in “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching”.

And from Great Parenting Simplified:

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My book, Easy Parenting For All Ages: A Guide For Raising Happy Strong Kids, is available for free download on kindle unlimited. Click on this link.

To order a copy of Pantsdrunk: The Finnish Art of Drinking at Home. Alone. In Your Underwear by Miska Rantanen, (Square Peg, £9.99) for £8.59, go to guardianbookshop.com

 

“Gourmet Challenge” Quiche

When my children were tiny and right up to their teens, we often spend the summer in our family hideaway on the Sierra Tramuntana on the isle of Mallorca. Here, for the blissful weeks of summer, we would live and eat simply.  What’s lovely is that over the years, many friends joined us at Melcion and the love grows.

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Photo: my father and my son Jack.

One of our favourite family games at Melcion is Gourmet Challenge. The premise of the game is very simple: you have to rustle up a gourmet feast just from the ingredients you can find around the house and the garden.

The idea is quite simply Waste Not, Want Not. I abhor gratuitous trips to the supermarkets just to pick up one or two missing ingredients – what a waste of petrol, what a waste of time and what a waste of money, because you always end up buying more than what you set out for.

And the best thing about a Gourmet Challenge is you never really know what you’re going to get, and it is fun!

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Photo: my little gourmets.

So, on this rainy day, I made a “Gourmet Challenge” Quiche. I found an old bag of spinach in my freezer that had been thawed and refrozen so many times, a leek (slightly off), two tomatoes and half an onion. I had the usual staples in my house – milk, cream, cheese, butter, eggs, garlic.  I even made the pastry from scratch!

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C/350 deg F.

For the pastry:

  • 100g unsalted butter, straight out of the fridge
  • 200g flour, sifted
  • 6 tablespoon cold water.

Cut the cold, hard butter into small cubes (save the wrapper for greasing the flan tin).  Rub the butter and the flour until they resemble breadcrumbs.

Add the water. Knead the dough, but not excessively, because you are not making bread! Shape into a ball, wrap the dough in beeswax wrap (or cling film, if you don’t have it) and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Grease the flan tin with the butter wrapper. Lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough.  Line the greased flan tin with the dough. It doesn’t matter if your dough crumbles – you can see from this photo that mine didn’t come away neatly in one large piece and I had to patch it up!

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It is highly recommended that you pre-bake the flan before adding in the filling, but I didn’t. If you wish to do things by the book, here’s how (as my mother would):

Line the pastry with foil and weigh down with baking beads or beans. Place the tin on a baking tray, then pop in the hot oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove the beans and the foil, then return to the oven for a further 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden.

For the filling:

Here’s the thing: baked cheese tastes good, no matter what.  This quiche that I made was especially yummy because I crumbled garlic Boursin into it (such decadence).

  • 3 large, organic eggs
  • 50g grated cheddar
  • 1/4 a garlic Boursin
  • 6 tablespoon creme fraiche
  • Approximately 50ml cooking cream
  • Salt and pepper

Mix all together until you have a thick slurry – adjust the volume of cooking cream used. Season generously.

These are the possible vegetable filling for your Gourmet Challenge Quiche (only the first four ingredients are important, the others are up to you):

  • Olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • One red onion, sliced
  • Half a bunch of thyme
  • Few rashers of bacon
  • Frozen spinach, thawed, and water squeezed out
  • Leeks, sliced

Saute the garlic in olive oil until fragrant. Add the rest and continue to saute until thoroughly coated with the garlic-olive oil. Pour this into the prepared flan dish and finally, pour in the cream-egg-cheese slurry.

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Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the filling is almost set. Leave to cool slightly, then carefully remove the flan tin. Delicious either hot or cold, and lasts for a couple of days in the fridge….enjoy 🙂

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My cookbook, The Ca’n Melcion Cookbook which chronicles the food of those magical summers, is available on Amazon. Click on this link for a free preview.

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“Blueprint” – genomics and our children, and what we cannot change

A few years ago, shortly after my parenting book was published, I was sat next to a child psychologist, waiting to give my talk.

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He flipped through the pages of my book and laughed.

“Children come to us almost ready cooked,” he said with a broad grin. “Whatever parents and educators like to think.”

We went our separate ways after that, and I continued to spread my philosophy of imbuing our children’s childhood with love, light, laughter, kindness and all the good stuff, in the belief that how children are brought up will shape the adults they will become.  Indeed, it is still my core beliefs in parenting, namely how we live our lives as parents and the words we speak to our children become their norm.

Sure, Nature plays a part, but NURTURE can shape Nature.

But now, years later, Robert Plomin published a book that states the contrary, bringing to mind my conversation with the child psychologist of long ago.

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Plomin is a geneticist and psychologist, and a Professor at Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre,  Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. This book took him 30 years to write.

According to Plomin, the key to personality traits does not lie in how you were treated by your parents, but rather in what you inherited biologically from them: namely, the genes in your DNA.

Whoa!!!! While there has always been widespread acceptance that genes determine our physiology for good and bad, much greater controversy has surrounded the subject of our psychology – our behaviour and personality traits.

And read this, dear parents and teachers:  Plomin’s argument is that, in a society with universal education, the greatest part of the variation in learning abilities is accounted for by genetics, not home environment or quality of school – these factors, he says, do have an effect but it’s much smaller than is popularly believed.

Indeed, there are many opponents to Plomin’s controversial views, but perhaps that comes from our still immature understanding of genomics – as explained by my daughter – the science of how the complete set of genetic material influences the whole organism (namely the study of interaction between genes). After all, it was only introduced in 1986 by Tom Roderick.

But pieces are emerging to debunk my long-held beliefs, though who knows what the “real” story is. Maybe there is more than one. Maybe it is a combination. Who knows. There is certainly a very strong genetic influence (mine) when it comes to my fifth child. Despite being of mixed race, she looks exactly like me. She also has my affinity for mathematics beyond what that can be taught, my impatience, my flash temper. Her father and I certainly did not nurture those three traits (especially the latter two!!) but she is certainly walking around with them, though she has her father’s sunniness, strong work ethics and stability. And his smile 🙂

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I remember another conversation I had on the grounds of Priory Clinic in London about 4 years ago with a psychologist who told me, “I believe cruelty can be inherited.”

I had laughed at him then. “So you think one should interview the parents and grandparents before choosing a life partner?”

“Yes,” he had answered sombrely. “Human beings are just breathing, walking, talking, living bags of inherited genetic material and we spend our lives trying to over-ride our inherent nature.”

Sobering thought.  But I believe that even if Plomin & Co’s research and expertise are correct, we should still endeavour to create a loving, supportive and kind home for our children, without the expectations that it will lead to greatness (if neither of their parents are Einsteins). After all, one of the true values of parenting is that we become better people ourselves from the parenting process.

Plomin’s book sounds like a good read.  You can read an article about his book and his thoughts here.

E-version of my book is available here.

 

Classic Stroganoff

I went for dinner at my dear friend Alan Thatcher’s, and it seems sublime that we were sat in his English garden on Phuket island eating this traditional fare from home.  I literally licked the bowl clean and recreated it (without Alan’s pizzazz, of course) two days later.

Here it is:

  1. 500g fillet steak (this recipe works equally well with pork)
  2. 1 cup good quality beef stock
  3. 1 large Spanish onion (sliced)
  4. 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
  5. 1 cup mushrooms (quartered)
  6. 50ml sour cream
  7. 1 cup brandy
  8. Pinch of paprika
  9. Juice of 1 lemon
  10. Knob of butter
  11. Salt & pepper to taste

(I added frozen peas whilst Alan used sliced carrots).

  • Sear the meat in butter. You must sear the meat.
  • When browned (about 30 seconds in a hot pan) add the onion and garlic. Saute until both are soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and stir for a minute or so.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT the sour cream.
  • Bring to boil until you get a thickish gravy.
  • Add the sour cream, stir in until thoroughly mixed.  If you are adding frozen peas, now is a good time. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes, adjusting the consistency.
  • Season generously.

Delicious with pasta or boiled rice. My kids loved this!

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A very challenging puzzle to challenge a very challenging child

Teaching children to think independently, creatively and bravely – rather than just parrot, rote-learn, copy –  is of course one of the goals that parents and teachers aspire to.  I could write a whole book on this subject (and I might, one day), but for now, this is about my fifth child and a little puzzle for her (and you…go on, give it a try to understand the process).

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My fifth child has the restless sort of brain that loves puzzles. She wrote a Sudoku book when she was about five and sold it to family and friends (OK, there were a couple of mistakes in her solutions).  Oh lovely, you might say, BUT….

She chats non-stop in the car and expects us to be engaged in her musings and theories, such as “Do you know there are fourteen possible way to say this word in Spanish?”, “In Tagalog, these are the words that are similar in Malay language”, “I hate it when words are not symmetrical”, “What do you think of the arrangements of these words: PATONG SHOOTING RANGE?”, “It’s soooo annoying…PHUKET PHOTOGRAPHY!”

Yes, she fried our brains. Big time.

Worse when I had to tutor her Chemistry. She would grab the calculator off me and punch the long numbers in with lightning speed. Or looked at me pityingly because I couldn’t do the log conversions in my head. “Are you quite sure you can’t work this out without a calculator, Mum?” She would ask with deep sympathy.

She does maths to relax. Say no more.

OK, it’s our fault. It started a long time ago. We didn’t have a colour television set at home, only a small black-and-white one.  And then of course, we never forced her to learn how to read or sit down to rote-learn multiplications and divisions.  As a result, her brain’s neural network grew in an unconstrained, free-range, organic sort of way. She has such a vociferous appetite for living and learning, HER way, of course.

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She created this beautiful mind map that takes up a whole wall:

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She is always creating maps to link discrete pieces of the world, from the physical sciences to languages to mathematics.  Somehow, she sees the connections where not many could and I can often feel the cogs in her brain turning furiously trying to piece things together, storming ahead to the uncharted territories of this vast and complex universe. Could we ever begin to understand the universe, consciousness, inter-relatedness of all things, technology?

Interestingly, a Google executive recently said that understanding of LANGUAGE is the key to the next giant leap in technology. So, here’s a puzzle taken from the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad by Patrick Littell (based on the Aymara language) that I redrew for my fifth child:

Which fisherman caught what, and who is lying?

Can you solve it?

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Answer (scroll down):

.

.

.

.

.

From the Guardian. 1g, 2b (LIE), 3a, 4c, 5d, 6f, 7e

Here are the patterns that will have helped you work this out:

challwataxa is the last word of each sentence. It means “caught” or “fish”

paya, and kimsa are the numbers 1, 2 and 3

challwa is the root “fish.”

lla indicates the little fish, whereas hach’a indicates the big fish.

-mpi occurs whenever there are two kinds of fish.

wa occurs at the very end, but before challwataxa.

Hope you enjoyed it 🙂

 

One of my loveliest memories from my youth is of my parents walking on the coast of our beloved Hampshire, picking samphires from the sea.

“Yukky,” I used to grimace.

“In the war, we used to eat this, and the seaweed called carrageen moss, for the minerals. It saved our health, during the food rationing years,” my mum would say again and again.

On impulse, I decided to forage for samphires but chanced upon lovely beds of glasswort instead, so emerald in the summer sun in Bosham, again, one of the favourite places of my childhood.

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Glassworts are also known as sea beans, and you could eat them raw. But the taste is more ‘acceptable’ to the palate not used to the strong taste.

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Cooking instructions:

First of all, make sure that there is no pollution in the area where the glasswort grows. Anti-foul from boats are poisonous!

Boil for 10 minutes in a large pan of water (this will remove some of the saltiness.

Blanch immediately in cold water to keep its crispness.

Toss in olive oil and toasted sesame oil.

Top with finely grated ginger and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with avocado to soften the taste.

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Note: what I love is the fact that this tastes like the seaweed dish I once fell in love with in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo….and to think, I can pick it in my backyard, literally!

6 Reasons why it’s important to teach children gardening

Naw, I’m not really keen on gardening. Last year, I almost poisoned my whole family by mistaking my mum’s prized alum bulbs for garlic. I chopped a few up and she looked faint, as these babies were heritage bulbs from Royal Horticultural Society. Eegads.

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Photo: the dreaded alums when they finished flowering.

But my mum is not letting me off that easily. She nabs me at opportune moments to do little gardening-related tasks for her that she hopes will awaken my belated love for gardening.

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Now I have three little boys – very boisterous – who would prefer larking around by the sea (it’s such a beautiful summer) than “boring” gardening at home. It’s almost like a punishment, so to engage their interest, I told them that my niece Katie used to dig up the earthworms and ate them with gusto.

“Why is she still alive?” they demanded in disbelief.

And therein lies the reason why children MUST garden:

#1: To get them not to be afraid of the dirt and creepy crawlies.

Jumping on cowpats in wellies is a fun thing to do, I told them. My brothers and I used to do that with such glee, encouraged by our mother.

“Won’t the germs kill you?” the boys asked with narrowed eyes.

On the contrary – it is the lack of germs that might kill you. Getting dirty (good clean dirt) is all about strengthening the immune system, and no where can you get that more than in the garden (nature’s antibiotics). So ditch the hand sanitisers!

#2: It’s all about understanding nature

Children these days have become so distant from the source of life that some think that burgers come from supermarket shelves (not cows are pigs) and potatoes grow on trees like apples. What a shame that we are losing our roots, which is the foundation of our strengths, and several pieces of research have shown that estrangement from our roots is the cause of many modern malaises.

#3 It’s healthy to be outdoors (unless you live in a heavily polluted area)

Children are like plants: they need water, sunshine and fresh air.

They need to be outdoors, moving around barefoot on the grass, instead of hemmed in indoors (house, tuition centre, shopping malls) like poodles. And it’s educational too. Check out this BBC clip – it WILL convince you.

#4 Less fussy eaters

People often exclaim with surprise and envy that my kids eat so much salads and are happy chugging down green smoothies. Well, two factors. Firstly, they know that green stuff is good for you. Secondly, I make it interesting for them by mixing greens (that they pick themselves) with their favourites.

And if your kids grow edible herbs and veggies, they will find what the grow so tasty! (Container gardening is good enough if you don’t have a garden).

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Photo: dandelion and buttercups from the backyard in the salad

#5 Respect time and nature

We have such poor relationship with time. We are either chasing it, trying to catch up, or we are dragging it behind us.  Only few walk to the beat of time. I knew someone who lived in a different time zone from the real world: “Just a minute” was his unconscious often repeated mantra, and he never had time for anything real.

These little boys of mine, they harvested some beans (which they saved from a parched field) and wanted to grow them NOW.

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But I told them they have to wait until May 2019, because it’s too late now to grow beans.

“Why?” They moaned collectively.

Because life beats to its own rhythm, and we best learn how to dance to it.

#6 Better relationship with your child

Gardening build closer bonds: shared afternoons together in the sun, without the distraction of iPads and smartphones, is a wonderful way to spend time together.

You can have a lot of deep conversation with your child when you are side-by-side digging or pulling out weeds. Because here’s the thing: there is no such thing as quality time as we cannot schedule for meaningful moments to happen. You get a lot out of your kids when you spend time together, just BE-ing.

OK, here are the efforts: potato patch (badly planted), mint (from the supermarket vegetable section) and scraggly lavender. Good start anyway, thumbs up x

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“The best classroom in the world”

It is true, the best classroom in the world is the world.  Though books are great for growing young minds, I strongly believe that children (and adults) need to go out there to the world they live in to feel the lessons.

The best teacher is often the parent. What my parents taught me all those decades ago still reverberated strongly in me. And indeed, my biology teacher, Mrs Jenny Woods who took the class out on field trips to Harting and Stoughton.

And so I am back here again, walking in my beloved Hampshire, far from the madding crowd.

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Amongst the golden ripeness, we came across a field where its entire crop of broad beans were devastated by the hot summer we are having.

“Oh no,” I said, with feeling. I remember what my father told me about his childhood: he had grown up in a farm, and one summer, a whole field of crop was ruined, with just one blade standing. A lone tear rolled down my father’s cheek, all those decades later.

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“What happened, Jacqueline?” Little Berti asked. He slipped his tiny hand in mine. The youngest of the triplets, he was particularly in tune with my emotions.

“The sun, it destroyed this whole field. There was no rain, so the plants burned.”

“Why didn’t the farmer water his plants?” Christian asked.

“Because the cost of watering this large field, so far from a water source, would cost more than his crop.”

“Let’s pick the alive ones to eat,” Alex said.

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And with the wisdom of an old soul, Berti (named after Umberto Ecco) said firmly, “We will take the seeds home to plant them, so that they may grow again next year.”

My heart soared at those words for this is the most precious lesson of all, that life is kindness and cruelty, good times and bad times, but we must have hope always ❤

Drying the seeds in the sun for next season, may God bless us:

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Eat like a King, cheaply, seasonally

Inspired by Tom Hunt’s article, How to eat like a chef for less than £20 a week, I ventured out to the lively North End Road market to see what bargains I can find:

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Despite my son getting his motorbike stolen by yobs in the market (London is becoming increasingly lawless), I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole array for fruits and vegetables on offer, even exotic ones. This place is such a cultural melting pot – it feels as if the world had arrived at the outer fringes of Fulham:

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I bought:

  • Rhubarb £1.50 for 1 kg
  • Strawberries £2 for a large punnet
  • Raspberries £1 for a small punnet
  • Blackcurrants £1 for a small punnet
  • Red peppers £1 for 4
  • Large Aubergines £1 for 3
  • Button mushrooms £1 per bag
  • Red onions £1 per large bag
  • Avocados £1 for 4
  • Rocket leaves £2 for a very large bag
  • Spinach £2 for a very large bag
  • Garlic £1 for a bag

I popped into the supermarket:

  • to buy Brie (on offer) for £1
  • a loaf of seeded loaf 65p
  • one tin of chopped tomatoes 50p
  • Beetroot 60p

Total cost of shopping: £17.25.

Challenge:  to feed four adults with big appetites who are spoilt when it comes to food (i.e. steak and truffle mash are common fare).

This is what I rustled up:

Breakfast:

Oat porridge with berries (and some stewed rhubarb for that extra kick)

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Lunch:

Brie and rocket sandwich with a large salad bowl

Dinner:

Aubergine and pepper stuffed with garlic mushrooms, onions and aubergine on a bed of creamed spinach.

Dessert:

Stewed rhubarb with leftover strawberries.

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Verdict:  “Yummy, but not everyday please, Mum!!!!”

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So we are back to this (great book, by the way, my all-time favourite, it beats Delia and Nigella hands-down)… but it’s expensive to cook from this book of family favourites.

Conclusion:

I’m still a long way off from being as accomplished as Tom Hunt when it comes to budget cooking 🙂  So here’s my challenge to you: what is the minimum you can spend for a day of healthy and yummy menu for ravenous, growing folks?

 

The best schooling for your child

This is the Oratory School, London.  It was reputed to be the best.

It rejected my son Kit.

Kit was 10 when we applied for him to attend this school in 2000.  We had lived in nearby South Kensington and all my children attended the Oratory’s feeder school, Our Lady of Victories RC Primary school. We attend the Our Lady of Victories Church regularly – three of my children were baptised at the church – and still attend this church.

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Additionally, Kit’s father was also the head of faculty at St Thomas Aquinas in Birmingham, an Oratory school.

On the day of the interview, Kit cycled to the London Oratory School on his own. He was a confident, sporty sort of chap and though not terribly academic, he was not that bad in his studies.

But The Oratory School rejected him after the interview.  We were flabbergasted, as we were not allowed to apply to the other Catholic school in the area, Cardinal Vaughn. The choice was either or: you couldn’t apply to both.

As Catholic education was very important to us, we decided – with heavy hearts – to send him to school near his grandparents: to St Simon Stock all the way in Kent. He had to take two trains to get to school each day and once, he was picked on very severely by bullies on his journey to school. And my boy had not even turned 12 then.

But with his indomitable spirit, he won medals and trophies in karate and go-carting.

After that, we moved abroad and Kit had three years at an international school. He got his International Awards, did passably well in his studies, collected great experiences as he embraced everything in his robust, enthusiastic and boisterous way.

At 18, he decided to join the Royal Navy. Much to our surprise, he passed the Admiralty Interview Board with flying colours! We knew he would pass the Fitness Selection Test easily, but AIB???? He was up against other 18-year-olds who went to Welbeck College and /or came from distinguished naval families.

And so, Kit began his degree in Mechanical Engineering at Southampton University, fully funded by the Royal Navy. Whilst there, he added on to his arsenal of medals: in boxing and fencing.  After his first degree, the Royal Navy paid for him to do a Masters, and then he went on for officer training at Dartmouth Royal Naval College in the UK and Annapolis Naval Academy in the US. He went on foreign tours of duty (including six months in the Middle East) before being awarded the prestigious job as the Deputy Weapons Engineer on the Queen Elizabeth, a post he held for two years during the building of the aircraft carrier. The biggest accolade for him, however, was when he was picked to be the Day Officer when the crew of 600+ came onboard. When his 2-year posting ended, he was invited to do a second Masters, this time in Guided Missiles Technology, which he is completing now, before his next posting, working towards his next promotion to Lieutenant Commander. He is often on TV and newspapers (the photo on the right was from Daily Mail and the one below is a screenshot from BBC’s recent programme, Britain’s Biggest Warship):

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His whole life is his job. He is ambitious and embraces all the experiences the Royal Navy gives him. He took up every opportunity that was offered to him and did well.

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So this is the boy that the Oratory School deemed to be “not good enough” or “not right” for its hallowed halls. I’m glad it didn’t affect him. It wasn’t the “best” school anyway, but one of the many. And Kit certainly has not lost out by not going to this school.

Ironically, my grown-up children now live within 100 metres from the school, next to Brompton Park, and as I walked past the schoolboys heading for the school today, I want to get this message out to all parents:

The concept of “best” school does not exist. The best is already in your child. Nurture it in the home. School is just part of the story.