The Toughest Job

It is often said that parenting is the toughest job and at times it can feel that way, but I love my salary of hugs and "I Love You Mum"s.

The generation of children left in misery by cotton wool parenting


A study found that children are increasingly unhappy and fearful about the future because parents dominate their lives too much, and can leave them ill-equipped to deal with adult life.

The generation of children left in misery by cotton wool parenting

Motherly love 'breeds confidence'

Babies whose mothers shower them with affection are better at coping with stress when they get older, researchers say.

Motherly love 'breeds confidence'

Neurotic? No, I'm just hypersensitive: How one in five is us are overwhelmed by the stresses of modern living

I wonder how much this behaviour prompts ASD labelling!

According to a new book, some people are born with a more sensitive nervous system - and are more easily stimulated to panic, intolerance and general over-reaction to modern living.

Neurotic? No, I'm just hypersensitive: How one in five is us are overwhelmed by the stresses of modern living

The family that bakes together …


Baking together – and especially making our own bread – brings us all closer, says the French baker Richard Bertinet

Richard Bertinet's three children know all about real bread. Jack, nine, Tom, six, and Lola Maude, three, can tell a decent sandwich from the filled layers of pappy, additive-laced squares sold in most shops. If you ask them, they will tell you that they prefer sourdough to sliced white, which many parents would say makes them fairly unusual.

But their father, who is French, believes that all children would say the same if they were given the choice between real bread and what he calls the "bread-type product" with which we fill our supermarket trolleys. For millennia, bread has been the most fundamental basic of the human diet and if we get our bread right, Bertinet believes, the rest will follow. He even believes that it can bring parents closer to troublesome teenagers.

Born in Brittany, the son of a gendarme, Bertinet was introduced to the joys of baking by his grandmother. "She used to make wonderful doughnuts. She had a massive bowl of dough rising on the table and I used to hide beneath and steal little bits. The smell, the first bite of the doughnut ... it's my first memory as a child."

After he left school, Bertinet did shifts at a local bakery before his national service, then continued his training as a baker in Paris. He came to the UK in the late 1980s, made his reputation as a chef in London and then moved to Bath six years ago with his wife, Jo, and their young family, to set up a cookery school.

He is angry at the way in which bread that is barely nutritious is marketed to parents and children in this country. During the one-day introductory bread-making course at the Bertinet Kitchen, a pass-the- parcel-style game is played.

Bertinet gets learner bakers to read aloud the ingredients off the bag of a cheap white sliced loaf, one by one. It's quite fun, horribly revealing and takes a good few minutes, not least because some of the preservatives are almost unpronounceable. His point, of course, is that it should take only a moment to recite "flour, yeast, salt, water".

"We've created a culture of convenience," he says. "If you go shopping once a week, bread has to last a week. But there's no excuse for buying bad bread for your family. Read the packaging – you can buy good bread in the supermarket. Even better, find and support your local artisan baker."

If his evangelistic zeal makes Bertinet sound over serious, he is actually very warm and funny, too. He has the "safe pair of hands" quality that a good teacher (and baker) needs, and the charisma and patience to convey and encourage new skills. His books and DVDs demonstrate a revolutionary (to me, anyway) method of working dough, which involves less desperate flour-dusting and more deft, controlled flinging. The first two books, Dough and Crust, are all about bread; his new one, Cook, is a complete cookery helpmate, full of simple, delicious recipes and judicious advice on the basics.

The surest way to learn about nutritious bread, Bertinet says, is to make your own. He's talking about getting your hands doughy, not turning blindly to a bread machine: "Those bricks can be as bad for you as white sliced." And he is a huge enthusiast for kitchen activity en famille. "If your children are uncommunicative, baking together breaks the ice. It changes the routine. And to make and eat your own home-made pizza or breadsticks – it's not a chore, but really positive."

Bertinet suggests that many people who believe that they have problems digesting wheat (victims of bloating, rather than diagnosed coeliacs) might notice a difference if they chose bread made with natural ingredients. As an ambassador for the Real Bread Campaign, part of the Sustain alliance for better food and farming, he champions bread that benefits health, local community and the environment. 

And as a Frenchman, he understands the aesthetic pleasures of a chewy-crusted, properly fermented sourdough. But he refuses to encourage knee-jerk rejection of the sliced stuff. "We need to work with the big bakeries," he says. "We've created this culture of convenience and we need to change it. Cheap bread is the last bastion of poor eating. Look for good bread and support your local baker. And always read the packaging."

Richard's recipes

Basic white dough

10g yeast (fresh, if possible)

500g strong white flour

10g salt

350g water

Rub the yeast into the flour using your fingertips, as if making a crumble. Add the salt and water. Hold the bowl with one hand and mix the ingredients with the other for two to three minutes, till the dough starts to form. Lift it on to your work surface. Do not add flour! Begin to work the dough by sliding your fingers under it like a pair of forks, thumbs on top, swing it upwards, then slap it back down away from you. It will be almost too sticky to lift at this point. Stretch it towards you, lift it back over itself to trap air, tuck in the edges, and repeat the sequence. After a few minutes it should begin to feel alive and elastic in your hands. Keep on working it until it comes cleanly away from the work surface. Now you can flour the worktop and form the dough into a ball by folding each edge in turn into the centre and pressing down well with your thumb, rotating the ball as you go. Now you're ready to attempt all manner of white loaves.

Olive, herb and cheese breadsticks

Makes about 12

White dough, rested for one hour

(half the above quantity)

100g purple olives, such as

Kalamata, stones in

50g grated pecorino or parmesan

5g good herbes de Provence

Maize flour for dusting

Stone the olives and cut each roughly into three, then mix with the cheese and herbs in a bowl. Turn your dough out on to a lightly dusted surface, then flatten into a rectangle, about 2cm thick. Sprinkle the olive and cheese mixture on to it and press into the dough with your fingertips. As if you're folding an A4 letter to put into an envelope, fold one third into the middle, pressing it down to work the olives in, then do the same on the opposite side. Cut the dough widthways into 10 or 12 x 1cm strips. Flour the work surface, then twist and roll each strip to stretch it to the length of your baking tray (non-stick, or covered in greaseproof paper). Place them on the tray, leaving a good gap between each one. Cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for 30 minutes. Bake in a preheated oven (as hot as it will go) for 10–12 minutes. Lift the breadsticks carefully on to a wire rack to cool.

Richard Bertinet's books Dough (£19.99), Crust (£15.99) and Cook (£19.99) are published by Kyle Cathie. For details of breadmaking classes, go to Join the Real Bread Campaign at © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

The family that bakes together …

'Working mothers are to blame if their children misbehave' says a leading psychologist


Oliver James has controversially suggested that mothers of toddlers should stay at home.

'Working mothers are to blame if their children misbehave' says a leading psychologist

Toddlers + Toilet Roll = Trouble


You know that cute little Andrex puppy, the one that pulls the toilet paper off the roll and drags it around the house. Well it has nothing on a toilet training toddler!

As soon as they have worked out how to get the toilet roll off the holder you've had it. The toilet roll will be wrapped around the house and then flushed down the toilet before you realise what's happening. The way I found to get around this is to use a chunky old wooden toilet roll holder that has a knob on one end that screws into the wooden dowel the loo roll sits on. This holds it all in place and the little darlings can't figure out how to get the loo roll off the holder (unless they spot you replacing the roll!)

The only problem with this design of holder is that they can spin the toilet roll round, and the faster they spin it, the faster the toilet paper gathers in a pile on the floor. So what do you do?

Squash the loo roll flat before you put it on the holder. That way when they try to spin the roll, it stops after half a turn, leaving them with a measly 1 piece of paper. They soon lose interest!

Posted by at Tuesday, February 09, 2010 5:08 PM

Getting Gloss Paint Off Children


When my eldest son first came into contact with gloss paint I was panicking. How do you get gloss paint off a toddler? I mean you can't use white spirit, and I certainly wasn't going to scrub it off. His Dad was still emotionally suffering 30 years after his experience with gloss paint and his mother with a scrubbing brush! So what did I do?.. I left it. I waited until it eventually peeled off on it's own.

By the time my fourth toddler came into contact with gloss paint I was somewhat more blase about it, except that she pulled the tin off a shelf and over her entire head and body. Definitely not one to leave to peel off! So what did I do?..

I stripped her off, stuck her in the bath tub and massaged almond oil into the gloss paint. I figured that as gloss paint is oil based, massaging it into the paint would make the paint thinner and easier to remove.

I then massaged in shower gel, figuring that the soap in the gel would help break down the oil. Then I rinsed off the shower gel and the oil and gloss paint came off with it.

So there you have it, to get gloss paint off, massage in oil, massage in soap and wash off!

Posted by at Saturday, April 18, 2009 5:30 AM

The Tidy Up Ladder


What is it with kids? Why don't they like to keep things neat?

You and I both know it's got to be better to know where that hairbrush is, or that new DS game, or that overdue library book! But kids don't get it, kids don't see why their rooms should be tidy. I understand that, I really do, I hate tidying up - it's boring! There are things that I would much rather do than tidy, and so, my house is in a permanent state of organised clutter. To some it looks messy, but I know where just about everything in my house is.

Except for the missing hairbrush, a new DS game and that overdue library book!

So, just how do you get your kids to tidy? Do you bribe them, threaten them, take away all their stuff, lock them in their rooms until it's done? 8| Or do you try all of those with no success until one day you have an epiphany. Supernanny meets the Queens of Clean! Oh yes - I thought up the TidyUp Ladder and it worked - even better, it still works.

4 children, 3 bedrooms, one and a half hours and the rooms were spotless! You see the kids don't see the point in tidying, they don't understand the importance in dusting and vacuuming but they do understand races and they do understand sweets - okay, sweet bribery may not be everybodies cup of tea but I rationalise it by calling it a reward for a job well done.

To get the tidy up ladder to work you will need a timer (one that does 5 and 10 minutes), a stack of cards (I used the back of old business cards), blue tack, a tv showing short cartoons, a bowl of sweets and a tube of sweets (or other reward) - notice the emphasis on sweets here !!!! - Oh and you will also need a load of enthusiasm!

The idea behind the TidyUp ladder is that on each card you write something that needs tidying up and stick them up the wall (using the blue tack) to form a 'ladder'. At the top of each ladder you have a card with the childs name and their reward. They are timed to complete each stage of the ladder before the timer goes, if they complete the stage in time they get a sweetie, if they don't I get the sweetie. ;-) However, you always give them enough time to complete the stage! When they finish all the stages they get their reward.

The TV is another useful tactic - the sooner they finish that bit of tidying the sooner they get to see more of the show! This works really well with my children as they take it in turns to complete a cleaning stage. Doing it this way means that I only have one or two children upstairs at any one time and they are much less likely to interfere with each other and get distracted from the cleaning.

So, why does the TidyUp Ladder work? Quite simply, the children get rewarded for spending a few minutes playing a game! They like it. Having their Momma brimming with enthusism saying "come on, come on. You can do it. Get all the cuddlies on the bed before the timer goes" and then they get a sweet (or whatever) for beating the timer - that's cool!

Admittedly, sweets aren't everybodies cup of tea for reward incentives, and I know that my younger daughters would happily fill a card with stickers and have a bowl of strawberries as a reward, my son would happily earn extra computer time, but my 11 (going on 25) year old daughter... Sigh... she's the tricky one, but boy does she have a sweet tooth and it's easier making sure they're all earning the same rewards - less scope for "it's not fair" arguments.

Ways to make the TidyUp ladder work for you. Keep cleaning sessions short - no more than 5 minutes if possible - kids get bored easily, make sure they have equal time on and off - if they tidy for 5 minutes let them watch their cartoon for 5 minutes (perfect time for the next child to do their bit!). Keep instructions clear, simple and concise (put dirty clothes in basket, tidy under table, etc.). Limit the number of cards you write out (5 for younger children, I have 12 for the older ones).

Remember - Rome wasn't built in a day and if your kid's room is a complete tip then it won't be tidied in an hour or so. Break it up into 2 or 3 tidy sessions, more if necessary, by the end of the weekend it should be done! Then they can trash it during the week and do it all again the next weekend!

Posted by at Saturday, March 07, 2009 5:10 PM