Five things that make having an only child wonderful

It’s a question that, inevitably, anyone whose first child has reached two or more, will hear: “are you planning another?”

My answer will differ depending on who’s asking, because if it’s someone I know and like – and luckily it usually is – they’ll get a fuller response whereas if it’s not they’ll get a polite shutting down of the conversation (my womb is not public property, which is why you’re also not going to get the answer here). But invariably what follows is a discourse on whether having an only child is ‘fair’. I’m not going to go into all the things I found – shall we say – problematic in this well-meaning but rather weird article, for example but I do think it’s a sterling example of the job lot of assumptions – from ‘selfishness’ to a ‘lack of peers’ – that are very common when people talk about only children. I’m actually not one, but I am married to one, and right now my daughter is one too.

So here, with tongue tucked just a little bit in cheek, are my five best things about having one child.

Money Money Money

Unquestionably, there is more of it to go around. In a household with two working parents, who already have to rely some of the time on very obliging grandparents, budgets are tight and childcare is at a premium. Three afternoons a week of a childminder and a full five-week summer camp – not to mention holiday costs, uniform, school visits and trips, general household bills and the size of the property we live in (and therefore the mortgage we pay) – add up. The added costs of just one more child can radically change your lifestyle, and we really like ours where it is.

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!

I have no idea where the selfishness thing comes from. As my friend Anna once said, “only a child with a sibling knows the exact mid-point of a Mars bar”. People assume that – a bit like manners, or liking vegetables – sharing has to be practiced or you won’t know how to do it. But sharing is something us social human creatures only seem to object to when we’re forced to do it. Think about it: what feels better, offering your seat to someone on the Tube or being asked for it? Both husband and child are considerably more natural and happy sharers than I am, because they’ve routinely had the security of knowing their stuff is their stuff. Not communal stuff. Not a hand-me-down. Not limited to ten-minute turns. Then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a single adult where I could tell if they had siblings or not by how ‘selfish’ they were. I suspect it makes no difference at all, but if I had to argue for more selflessness on one side, it would be in favour of the only child.

The Winner Takes It All

Having said that, I’ll tell you what I’m overwhelmingly glad my daughter doesn’t have to share: a bed. On holiday  (particularly in the US) it’s frequently the case that you’ll encounter hotels that have two double beds per room – and she gets it all to herself. No squabbling, no problem. I don’t have to share with her, as I did with my mum until my sister and I could be trusted to actually sleep and not have a kicking contest, and she never has to wake up freezing cos her sibling has made a burrito out of the bedding (naming no names, sister mine). If there is only one bed, she’ll slip happily into a single roll-out camp bed.

Knowing Me Knowing You

I think the “what about their peers” argument is closely related to the anti-homeschool argument, though I’m not a homeschooler myself. There’s this assumption that if kids don’t have another child at home or don’t spend all day every day with at least 15 other kids of the same age (because in the workplace we’re all segregated by age and ability all the time), that means they’ll never have any friends. There are no cousins, no friends at school / clubs / swimming lessons, no family friends and relatives, no neighbours and absolutely no other opportunities to socialise with other kids. At all. Ever. Right? And we all know that having absolutely no personal space or way to get away from the person who’s driving you round the bend is very conducive to healthy friendships, and siblings never, ever argue. Ahem.

Also, might there not be something to be said – particularly, again, with two working parents who are out of the house a lot – for having a guarantee of your parents’ undivided attention? I can tell you that, for me, spending more time one-to-one (and less time refereeing) is a really precious gift; one I don’t take for granted. No, I don’t get to see those loving sibling moments – though I’ve seen some downright adorable cousin moments – and I only get one amazing small friend rather than two or more; my loss, indeed. But the flipside of that is that jealousy is a rare emotion in this house (except when the cat monopolises my lap for too long) and I only have one set of tantrums to handle.

My Love My Life

The fact is that I breathed a bit of a sigh of a relief when the baby milestones were done. I adored my daughter at all her stages: tiny, scrunched and helpless, snoozing on my chest; chewing her feet and making da-da-da sounds; taking her first wobbly steps. I hated potty training with a vengeance, but I celebrated with her when she nailed it, and I delighted in dispensing with nappies and bedtime pullups. I really, really, really love having an older child now, with whom I can have conversations, properly read books, watch films in the cinema, go to museums, travel and go out and about without the sponge shaped like a teddy bear and the teddy bear shaped like a sponge. I can also let her go for grandparent sleepovers without concerns – albeit not without missing her – and have more date nights, theatre trips and catch ups with friends.

Having one child – unless your first two children are twins – necessarily means reducing the length of time that you are parent of an infant; even if you have them back to back, each time you’re tacking on another year of those moments. And they’re beautiful, and wonderful and you do them willingly and sometimes you marvel in them but – to my mind – they’re not as good as the much more fully rounded person you get a few years down the line. (See? Told you I was the selfish one.)

When all is said and done, there are some serious things to be said about the only child discourse – including how hurtful it must be for people who did not choose to have one child but were forced into it by circumstance. And of course there are some very wonderful things to say about having more than one child, as many of my friends and family do. But just for once I wanted to celebrate the advantages – material, practical and emotional – that come with being a mum of one.

Whether or not I’ll stay that way… well, that’d be telling.

Jewish Museum London: Tiger, Mog and Pink Rabbit – A Judith Kerr Retrospective

#teawithtiger

#teawithtiger

I’m ashamed to say I’ve never visited the Jewish Museum in Camden before. I mean, I’m not actually Jewish, but that’s a terrible reason (arguably a greater impetus to visit in fact), and my husband is and therefore our child has Jewish heritage. Two of my friends have worked there (one still does). But this post isn’t about how I’m a terrible person; it’s about how I’m a ludicrously emotional person.

What finally shoved me through the doors was this small but beautifully curated exhibition of the work of Judith Kerr. I don’t know of a child who didn’t grow up on The Tiger Who Came to Tea; it was one of Ramona’s first memorised books, that she’d ‘read’ to me before she knew which word was which. It has charm, more than a touch of the bizarre, lovely touches of mundane realism that ground it and, most of all, gorgeous illustrations – the deft work of a talented woman who is still announcing new work at the age of 92.

Kerr was very nearly silenced before she started. Fleeing Nazi persecution in childhood, her family ended up in the UK via Switzerland (see what ‘migrants’ can offer? Not that it should matter whether they turn out to be artistic genius or not; human beings are always human). Here she has been ever since, and both the famous Tiger and her series of Mog books based on the adventures of her gorgeous tabby have won and broken the hearts of three generations of children (and their parents). I finally read Goodbye Mog for the first time, at Ramona’s insistence, sitting in the museum, in a giant cat bed. I cried and the beginning, and I cried at the end, and Ramona gave me a gentle cuddle and then sprang off to see more.

The four sections of the exhibition take in Kerr’s childhood, with a smattering of her youthful works of art – and a funny aside about how she failed the book illustration module of her first formal art training because she was so focussed on painting – leading into the more serious side of her work through novels such as When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. More teary eyes.

Suddenly, you turn right into Sophie’s kitchen, where a Tiger sits, devouring the all the sandwiches on the plate and all the tea in the teapot. Yep, as I sat in Sophie’s Daddy’s armchair, and tried on Sophie’s Mummy’s orange coat – Ramona in Sophie’s red one – I cried some more. I’m ridiculous.

Finally, kids can crawl through a cat door (adults don’t have to) into Mog’s world, and dress up as her as they curl up in her bed and have a catnap. Perfect.

Although we missed it, there is daily storytime at 10:30 while the exhibition is on, and there are arts and crafts workshops and activities available at other times. I’m absolutely gutted that I missed the opportunity to book a slot at Kerr’s talk – in person! – about her work.

The exhibition continues until mid-October. Entry to the recently beautifully rebuilt museum is £7.50 for adults and £3.50 for children (5-16) with concessions and family tickets available. That of course includes access to the rest of the museum too, which is rich with all aspects of Jewish history; the Holocaust, yes, of course, because how could it not be, but also the reality of Jewish life today, and Jewish practice in real homes of varying observance. It’s a gorgeous, airy, space and I intend to go back and explore properly, possibly without an overexcited 5yo, on another occasion. A note: the museum is open on Saturdays, which is when we went, but due to the kosher licence the cafe does not operate during Shabbat.

No disclosure needed – although I do have a friend that works there she had no idea I was going!

Travel: Stockholm with School-Age Kids – Overview

Gorgeous, even on a grey day

Gorgeous, even on a grey day

We recently got back from a fabulous end of school break to Sweden’s sometimes-sunny capital, Stockholm. Despite its reputation as an expensive city, we found that with a little bit of budget planning it was a great value family destination – and despite the unreliable and variable weather, still a really beautiful city packed with architectural gems for the grown-ups to sigh over.

I’ll be breaking down a few individual recommendations for places in separate posts and sharing more photos, but if this is a destination you’re thinking of going to with kids, here are some reasons to make the leap and book away. If you’re not somebody I know IRL, then it might be helpful to know that ours is a family of three with a 5yo who starts Year 1 in September.

1. Family-friendliness and fun

Snaking her way through Skansen

Snaking her way through Skansen

Kids are welcome everywhere in Stockholm, and there’s loads for them to do.  For the most part (unless – like Junibacken or Skansen – it’s particularly aimed at children), they get in free to museums and the youngest travel free on both public and some private transport. Attractions have children’s menus, and ordinary cafes and restaurants we went to were very relaxed about making minor modifications to freshly prepared food – eg leaving off dressings – to accommodate children’s requests.

As previously mentioned, there are attractions that are specifically aimed at children; I’ll write about the amazing Astrid Lindgren story centre, Junibacken, separately as well, but it’s an absolute must do. With a permanent play village based on classic Swedish children’s literature and a play house designed after Pippi Longstocking’s Ville Villekulle, it’s an absolute joy.

To make matters even more perfect, this year it’s host to an amazing 70th anniversary Moomin Valley play village, complete with Moominmama’s house, the tiny carousel from Who Will Comfort Toffle?, darting fish in the river by Snufkin’s boat, fruit falling from the trees and a glowing campfire for the grownups to sit around while the kids go mad.

Another one for the to do list is the huge outdoor cultural centre / museum / zoo, Skansen, at which it’s all too easy to lose a whole day – or at the very least half of one – meandering about.

MOOMIN HOUSE!

MOOMIN HOUSE!

Both of these – plus the famous Vasa museum and quite a few others – are on the royal park island of Djurgården which is very easy to get to from central Stockholm – another consideration with kids. If you’re staying near the main waterfront it’s a short ferry ride or a few miles’ walk.

Most of all, if you’re not linguistically blessed – my husband and I are both bilingual but in different languages, neither of them remotely Nordic – the stress of trying to navigate overseas is drastically reduced by the fact that everyone speaks English very well and even announcements on the commuter trains are made in Swedish and English as a matter of course.

More great suggestions – including ones for libraries that I really wish we’d had a chance to try – are in this budget-conscious Guardian article.

2. Food

Meatballs. Because of course.

Meatballs. Because of course.

Stockholm is a busy capital city, and as such every kind of food – and price point – is represented. As a family with a young child we often couldn’t plan lunchtime restaurant meals so ate in the museums, and found the quality to be high. The costs are roughly equivalent to London (eg a meal for three with cooked dishes in a museum cafe was around 400SEK or £30, but there were plenty of cheaper city-based cafes, fast food restaurants and tea houses). However, the quality was very decent and the quantity substantial, even for kids.

Afternoon tea at Chaikhana in the Galma Stan (old town)

Afternoon tea at Chaikhana in the Galma Stan (old town)

Our hotel also had a fulsome breakfast buffet, and you might find you end up eating a bit more often, particularly if you go in for the Swedish fika (afternoon coffee and cake break), but with local traditional foods such as open shrimp sandwiches, meatballs, pancakes and sweet, bready cinnamon rolls, you certainly won’t be short of things to tempt even the fussiest eater.

As for me, I was knee deep in bread and crackers – my carb-heavy happy place – and am pretty sure that after five days I was around 67% knackebrod (crispbread).

3. Transport

Ferrying to and fro

Ferrying to and fro

Cars are definitely not needed as Stockholm is a very walkable – and what isn’t is catered for by boats, trains, taxis and buses. It’s a city of mainland and islands, linked by bridges and boats, Djurgården being, as I said, the one you’ll want to spend the most time on, as it includes the Vasa museum, Junibacken, Skansen, the Tivoli amusement park (we didn’t go in but it did not look suitable for the faint-hearted!) and many more museums and galleries.

I already mentioned that Djurgården is very walkable from the mainland, and we did it in 40 minutes from our hotel which was opposite the bridge into the old town (a distance of a little over 2 miles, but with short legs accompanying us!). If anyone in the party is not up to walking or you just want the fun of the ferry, a one-way crossing is about 50SEK per person – free for under 5s, and reduced for older kids – or an all day “Hop On, Hop Off” boat pass starts at 175SEK per adult; or there are combined bus and boat options if you plan to cover a lot of ground. I would note here that I didn’t see any easy accessibility options on the boat – certainly if we’d had my mum, who uses a wheelchair, with us we’d have had to go for a commuter boat instead – but you can fold and pop a buggy on the deck.

Vasa. No pictures - and certainly none from an amateur's iPhone - can do this vast beauty justice.

Vasa. No pictures – and certainly none from an amateur’s iPhone – can do this vast beauty justice.

You can also get combined deals with the My Stockholm Pass, which includes a lot of attractions and dining discounts. We felt it was better value to pay individually – the concierge at our hotel pointed out you needed to be able to go to at least 2-3 attractions a day to make it worth it – but it depends on how much you’re intending to do.

A transport tip: Stockholm’s Årlanda airport is quite a way out from Stockholm itself; you’ll be encouraged to pick up the Årlanda Express, a 20-minute fast train straight into Stockholm Central Station, from the Sky City train station between Terminals 4 and 5. However, hop on the SL commuter train at the same station and it’s about 100SEK cheaper per person, per trip to the very same destination – and it only takes 18 minutes longer.  The trains were clean, spacious and easy to navigate, since everything is in English and Swedish. (Note: On the way out, you need the Uppsala train.)

4. Perfect for short breaks

SAS has a sense of humour

SAS has a sense of humour (meals part of an upgraded ticket, plus lounge access & fastpass security)

While sometimes the whole joy of a family holiday is in being able to go away together for a good long time – whether to Dorset or Disney World – both budgets and the constraints of annual leave and school holidays can render shorter breaks more desirable. The flight is around 2 hours out and a little more back, and that allows you to really maximise time – we arrived at lunchtime on Monday and left on Friday evening so we had pretty much the whole five days to play with.

On budget – our 5 day break in the last week of July including upgraded flights, 4* hotel and spending money came in at around 80% of the cost of our mid-September 3-key hotel break at Disneyland Paris (and that was in 2013 with the 2 days and nights free option thrown in). Now while that’s not exactly cheap, we were lucky to be able to take the opportunity to blow out a bit, and did. Using options like Air BNB, booking cheaper flights, minimising our trinket shopping and planning our meals a bit more carefully, we could have made it a substantially cheaper break. Also, had it just been me and him going we could have hit the highlights in fewer days – as it was, we dropped the pace to a 5yo’s, and stuck to one attraction and a walk around the Gamla Stan (gorgeous but touristy medieval old town) every day.

In sunny moments, there are few more gorgeous places.

In sunny moments, there are few more gorgeous places.

In all, Stockholm was definitely one of our favourite family breaks to date. Our daughter declared that, while nothing could beat Florida, this was her second favourite holiday ever – high praise indeed considering the distinct differences between a city break and a theme park extravaganza. She particularly enjoyed knocking around the old town and developed such a fondness for the Chaikhana tea house (she’s her mother’s daughter) that we ended up making three visits. Even though we ended up caught in a couple of deluges, she really enjoyed pottering around the city and exploring, and it made it a very relaxing break for us adults too.

Are you tempted? I, for one, can’t wait for an excuse to go back.

Brown rice porridge: one cup of rice, four sweet and savoury meals

Ready, set, porridge

Ready, set, porridge

Since I started experimenting with savoury porridge using oats, I knew at some point I was going to bother to try a proper, hearty rice porridge too. It is a little tiny bit of bother in the sense that it takes quite a long time to be ready; on the other hand, it needs relatively little intervention other than a quick stir every so often, so I popped it on while working from home and my husband (also working from home; he takes the kitchen while I commandeer the living room) kindly checked on it every so often while I tapped feverishly at my keyboard.

It’s tempting to whisper the word ‘congee’ here, and this take is certainly a closer relative than oats; however, as I used the only wholegrain rice I had to hand – which was basmati – it’s still not in the immediate family. Also, plenty of people make congee with white rice. Still, the principle is the same: a slow(ish) cooked rice porridge which swells the grains way past what’s desirable in a normal bowl of rice, and makes the starchy liquid a thick soupy sauce. How runny you want to go is entirely up to you.

Lining up the toppings

Lining up the toppings

The ratio I used was 1 UK cup of rice to 6 parts water, plus a dash of salt; I brought it to the boil and then simmered on a low heat for an hour or so. It was running a bit dry sooner than I wanted so I added another cup and continued for 10-15 minutes after that. You will find different ratios all over the internet, up to twice that water (and cooking time). You can only experiment with the time and patience you have. Also, yes, some sites suggest you can use your slow cooker, so do some digging.

I could have used stock or more elaborately flavoured the water, but I wanted to make both sweet and savoury dishes. I would definitely recommend using stock if you’re going for only savoury (it’s a richer flavour) but it will still be delicious without. For sweet you could include coconut or almond milk, but you don’t have to as brown rice has a natural sweetness (where do you think rice malt syrup comes from?).

So how four meals? Well, that one cup made four decent-sized individual servings of porridge, and as I’m not averse to reheating rice for the adults in the family (no, I don’t risk it with our daughter; yes, I know it’s not advisable but living on the edge here, obviously) my husband and I both had some for lunch and then I went on to have more for dinner – brinner, actually – and the last helping for lunch the next day.

Steamy goodness

Steamy goodness

Meals 1 & 2: Leftover chicken

My husband had roasted a chicken the day before, so I shredded 150g of cooked breast and stir fried this in a little coconut oil with fresh chilli, smoked garlic, mushrooms, spinach and courgettes.

To finish, I added some toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of ketjap manis, and fed us each a gloriously filling and warming dish that took less than fifteen minutes of prep and cooking time to assemble.

Who doesn't love breakfast as dinner?

Who doesn’t love breakfast as dinner?

Meal 3: Fruity brinner

I fancied something sweeter and brought the rice back to the boil on the hob with a splash of almond milk. I sliced a small apricot, a pair of strawberries and a couple of raspberries and added them to the now-sweet porridge along with a dollop of crunchy peanut butter and a little under a teaspoon of chia seeds (they add texture and tend to absorb liquid, making them quite filling).

Meal 4: Holy mackerel

I had some mackerel fillets in the fridge looking a little desperate, so while the porridge got nuked I quickly fried one in coconut oil, then used the same pan to toss around a hodge-podge of the tail ends of some 4-for-£4 packs of veggies that were going bendy in the fridge (in this case broccoli, sugar snap peas, spinach and samphire). While this tasted delicious it turned out less than beautiful, so you’re denied photographic evidence!

A 1kg bag of the rice I used costs £4.95 in my local supermarket. A cup being about a fifth of  a bag, each one of these meals cost a base of just 25p and if you use plain water it can become both main meal and a rice pudding-y, porridge-y dessert. Then it’s a question of using up anything in the fridge – poached eggs would be amazing – to go on top, and you can put as much or as little effort as you like or have time for.  Also, they’re all suitable for gluten free diets, and even the one including three types of whole fruit was still remarkably low fructose.

The next taste test will be my daughter – she’s very, very specific about porridge, which she usually likes super plain, so I’ll have to just let her taste mine and see how we go – but since it’s essentially more of a texture than a flavour I have hopes of winning her over.

Clearly I’m not breaking any new ground here – rice and oat porridges have been staple foods since these forms of agriculture was developed and continue to be eaten very widely globally – but as they’re often sidelined to very specific uses in UK households I’m enjoying playing around with flavours and textures I’ve basically ignored for years. And given the reactions of some people I’ve talked about this with, I don’t think I’m the only one. Time to bring back appreciation for some classics, I reckon.

What it’s like to be your mum, now you’re five

I should maybe write about what it is to be five, but how can I? Being

a mum to a five year old I can tell you about. I think that there
might be only one word for it: awesome. Literally. I see that

tomorrow holds so much. I watch the grown up you appearing in the
embers of babyhood you’ve blasted away behind you like a phoenix. I
remember that there was a point when you were basically a genial blob, and I
remember that there was a time when you couldn’t read and were barely
interested in toys or games. I recall there was a period when your nappies were
full and your gums empty. But now we have these lengthy and complex talks –
ideas shower from you like rain – and you ask questions and stretch out
every bit of your vocabulary, testing out words like you’re nibbling bites from
dense loaves of bread. I cling to the moments when you have daft,

babyish ideas, like when you asked me if peas were dead tadpoles. You
understand why it’s funny, and make sly jokes about your mad idea, when
there was a time not too long ago you would have been too embarrassed.

Generally, you’re a brilliantly good-natured soul, making friends easily
or so your teachers tell me – and I see it when we visit other children. I
do envy this; your easy manners and wonderfully engaging nature are things

I have never felt entirely sure of in myself, gregarious as I am. But I

love that I’ll never have to worry about you fitting in, even with your fabulously
odd sense of humour and the way you gravitate towards geekery. I admit I felt
validated when it turned out that your favourites at Walt Disney World were
every bit as edutainmenty and nerdy as mine. Spaceship Earth! You know what

you like and it’s gentle and smart and sparkly, just like you. And
over and above everything, you know that your mama will adore you, will
understand the weird fears and sharp passions, and love you as you. Always.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner: the joys of savoury porridge

How I did it, less elegantly but very deliciously.

How I did it, less elegantly but very deliciously.

I got it into my head this morning that I had to make savoury porridge. I’ve been trying to find interesting ways to get veggies into my breakfast for a while but I wasn’t in the mood for an omelette or frittata (the omelette’s slightly more sophisticated cousin).

I was also in the mood for porridge, and a couple of weeks ago I was in 26 Grains at lunchtime inhaling a gorgeous Indonesian chicken brown rice porridge, so the idea of making it savoury had obviously been in my mind for a while.

How 26 Grains did it all professional and proper like.

How 26 Grains did it all professional and proper like.

I had neither the time nor patience to make brown rice happen, but there’s genuinely no reason not to cook porridge oats in a savoury dish; after all, it’s generally the sweetness of the milk (and our habit of adding fruity toppings) that makes them taste more puddingy. While most of the traditional savoury porridge type dishes that you might think of from elsewhere in the world (such as congee) are rice based, there is simply nothing stopping you experimenting.  Inspiration and ancestry need not go hand in hand. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So after poking around the fridge and cupboards and supplementing with whatever looked interesting as we took an early morning turn around the supermarket, this is what I made. It’s a bit fast-paced but it’s super easy, all done in under half an hour and MFP tells me it only has 4g of sugar – perfect if, like me, you prefer a low-fructose diet.

Ingredients

(Makes one serving)

40g porridge oats
300ml water*
Vegetable bouillion powder*
85g mushrooms, sliced
A generous handful of spinach, whole or loosely torn
2 spring onions, chopped
A few leaves of basil, rolled up and thinly sliced
An egg**
Coconut oil for frying

Method

Prep all the vegetables first, and boil a full kettle – you’ll need it both to make up the stock and to poach your egg. Make up your stock, and get water into a pan to simmer for your egg.

Start off your porridge on the hob, using the stock. This recipe uses too much water on purpose as I wanted a really soft, swollen-flaked porridge – quite different to the thick, almost chunky “sweet” porridges I prefer. Adjust this to your own preference, but if you use my amount you’ll need a longer than usual cooking time to give the oats time to absorb the liquid. You’ll need to stir this quite frequently to stop it burning, so keep the heat medium-low. This is not a restful recipe, but you’ll make up for that when you eat it.

Put the coconut oil in a pan and start it melting. As it does so, check the poaching water – when it’s right, tip in the egg (this is the method I use). While the egg is cooking, put the mushrooms in the pan to sautee in the coconut oil. I also added all but the green fronds of the spring onion as I find it too strong  to have too much of it raw, but it’s up to you.

When the egg looks done – I like it with a runny, gluey middle – fish it out gently on a slotted spoon and set it to one side to drain. Duck egg whites are a bit more rubbery and translucent, so don’t worry if you haven’t used these before. Also, it will cool a little but this will not matter at all.

Go back to stirring the porridge until it’s the consistency you want. At the same time, the mushrooms will be almost ready – chuck in the spinach towards the end to just wilt, plus half the basil to warm it through. Season.

Pour the porridge into a bowl, spooning the vegetable mix on top. Gently tip the egg onto the top of that, and then sprinkle with the spring onion ends and remaining basil. Season again to taste, and dig straight in.

Runny yolks. Not beautiful to look at but SO GOOD.

Runny yolks. Not beautiful to look at but SO GOOD.

I meant to add a squirt of ketjap manis over the top for a hint of sweetness (and just to complete the ludicrous clash of multiple cultures already going on); I forgot, and it was still the most delicious thing I’ve made for some time. Also, it could probably have done with another texture – some nuts or pine nuts, or even steel-cut oats – but I have to admit for a fondness for comforting, baby food simplicity sometimes.

This is very much a ‘substitute what you like’ type recipe – in fact, it’s not even a recipe; it’s basically an elaborate serving suggestion.

I can feel a new obsession brewing already, as I try to work out what the next wonderful combination I can squeeze onto a plate is. And of course this is far from just breakfast. I’m a big fan of all foods at all times (pizza for breakfast; Shredded Wheat for dinner), but I particularly like the little glow of smugness you get from starting off the day with a couple of handfuls of veggies. Especially on the days when you know you’re likely to finish it on a dinner of a multipack of questionably flavoured crisps.

Oh dear. This is going to be a whole Pinterest board, isn’t it?

*I would usually just use my own stock here but I wanted a lighter vegetable stock and also it was frozen and I was feeling lazy
**I used a duck egg for richer flavour as I was feeling fancy, but as with all the above this is completely optional

Film review: Inside Out (UK Gala Screening)

A couple of weeks ago, BuzzFeed did a rundown of the year’s movie hits and misses, defined mainly by box office take. Tomorrowland – which I enjoyed so much I blogged about it twice – performed modestly at the box office and therefore was classified in the ‘miss’ category. Inside Out, which toppled the mighty Jurassic World from its multi-million dollar perch and has been drowning in glowing reviews, would – by this reckoning – rule the ‘hit’ column. But here’s the curious thing: when it comes to essentials, Inside Out and Tomorrowland are astonishingly similar.

How so? Well, their strengths – proper, rounded female characters; an inspiring message; a beautifully realised fantasy world – are the same; their weaknesses – more emphasis on set up and world exploration than tight plotting – are also the same, although I must say in both cases I didn’t actually care if it was all brought to a mildly unresolved conclusion quite suddenly in the last ten minutes. The journeys are considerably more interesting – creatively speaking – than the destinations.

Of course I loved Inside Out. There was a lot to love. Pixar ingenuity and humour drip from every scene; the animation is glorious, and Pete Docter’s ability to drag on the heartstrings remains unparalleled. We were delighted to be surprised by Docter (!), Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger (!!) and the voice of Joy, Amy Poehler (!!!) at the screening; Poehler asked the kids if they were ready to laugh and the grown ups if they were ready to cry, because when it comes to emotions there is no man better qualified to mess with the mind than the creator of Monsters, Inc. and Up! (never has an exclamation mark concealed so many bitter, salty tears).

As the film has been out for a while in the US and the teaser trailer was everywhere for a while, I’m going to skip the plot summary and cut straight to the key things I think people should know about Inside Out – all of which are, in my opinion, excellent reasons to see it.

  • IT’S A GIRL! Aside from Merida – and that was still in the princess area, albeit not the traditional sort – Pixar has been rather short of female leads thus far. Much is done to make up for this here. In fact, I can’t remember a non-princess animated film with women on screen for such a large proportion of it. It passes the Bechdel Test in its sleep. Riley’s interests centre around her (female!) friends, ice hockey, and generally being 11 years old and a bit daft. Her emotions are of mixed gender (an interesting choice – especially as adults are portrayed as single gender), but the majority are female, and it is two key female emotions (Joy and Sadness) who steer the action.
  • It continues, as is Pixar and Walt Disney Animation’s way, to make profound statements and use animation as a device rather than a distraction. The idea that as we grow up we can no longer be piloted by pure Joy, but have to accept the role of Sadness in our lives, is, by definition, bittersweet. It seems strange to me that people still assume kids made to include children are only for children – especially as the major studios are continually putting out films with an adult audience in mind – but if that might be your reason for missing Inside Out, then you’re just plain missing out.
  • There are Easter Eggs and jokes galore – I’m not even sure I caught a fraction of them (although even my daughter’s ears perked up at the snatch of Grim Grinning Ghosts!). The credit sequence is brilliant too, so don’t be too quick to bolt up from your seat.
  • The now obligatory short, Lava, beforehand, is pretty cute.

Almost-5yo child’s verdict:

Joy was my favourite, then Sadness, then Disgust. Mama, Daddy looks kind of like Fear [he does], I look a bit like Disgust [she does] and you look a bit like Sadness [ha!]. I thought it was really funny and I liked the bit with the rocket. The bit with the clown scared me a bit.

We then spent a happy afternoon filling in the sticker book we were given at the screening, and using the discussion prompts to talk about what makes us happy, sad, scared, disgusted and angry. I’m pleased to report the child has a much harder time thinking of things that make her sad and angry than thinking of things that make her happy, which suggests that her Joy is operating at optimum levels… and my Fear hasn’t got the better of me.

I leave you, then, with the gallery of Joy – photos from the screening, some taken by the lovely Rochelle Dancel, at which we had an absolute ball. Thanks Disney!

Disclosure: I was given tickets to the screening by Disney UK and all attendees got a little bag of goodies including snacks, themed sunglasses, mood door hangers and a sticker book. This is not a paid post and all opinions are my own.