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C is for Children’s Books

Apparently, it’s Father’s Story Week (FSW).  I know this thanks to a very informative post over at Reluctant Housedad.  Go ahead and read it now, but be sure to come back here and not get lost among the recipes.

Read it?  Good.  Now I don’t have to explain much beyond FSW being a week dedicated to getting dads to read with their kids more.

I love reading.  As a kid if I was given the choice between some kind of sporting fixture on TV and a walk to the library, I’d take the walk any day.  Even if it was raining.  Even if it was 3 miles each way.  I’ll still take that walk (but now I’d load an audiobook onto my phone and listen to that on the way).

My dad, never a big reader.  Give him a newspaper and he’s happy.  We tried with biographies of people (mostly cricketers) and, in more recent years, cook books, but he’s not a big reader.  I reckon he’s read more bedtime stories to my kids than he ever did to me.  I also reckon that’s because the books available for kids to read are far better now than they were when I was a kid.

How many of these do you recognise…

  • A mouse took a stroll through the deep, dark wood…
  • The night Max wore his wolf suit…
  • In the deep blue sea, in the deep of the blue…
  • The witch had a cat…
  • Every night, at 6 o’clock, Sam Vimes…

All excellent books and just a selection of the ones in the kids’ collection, built up over the last 12 years.

One of us parents, as chosen by the kids, reads to them every night.  Like cooking dinner, it’s something we share pretty equally.  Like cooking dinner, it’s not a chore, not just part of the household routine but something we both enjoy doing.

Thing 2, my eldest son, has a wide and varied collection of books he’s got going.  From Mr Gum to the Roman Mysteries, from Captain Underpants to Stormbreaker.  He’s reading them himself, having more success with some than with others but the very fact that he’s lying in bed reading after I’ve read to hi, is just brilliant.  I can’t recommend Mr Gum highly enough.  It’s funny, surreal, strange and just perfect for a boy of his age.  David Walliams’ books also feature highly on his shelves – I believe it took him a whole afternoon to devour Billionaire Boy when he was given it.  Together, though, we’re reading Skellig as his bedtime story.  Short chapters, beautifully written and magical.  If you don’t have a copy of Skellig in the house, your house is missing something.

Thing 1 has her Kindle and with it a veritable library of books to read – and listen to.  I hadn’t realised that the Kindle will read books out to you, albeit in an artificial and somewhat American voice.  Not great, so I don’t think audiobooks are going to go out of fashion any time soon.

On long journeys, especially in the car, I’ll read to them – or to my wife.  Harry Potter was our book of choice for the last holiday.

Random thoughts:

  • Kids copy you.  If they see you reading, and enjoying reading, then they’ll stick with it.
  • Read a bit of the book with them, dip in and out.  Read a chapter at bedtime but encourage them to keep going, get them to bring you up to speed the next time you read it with them.
  • Don’t give a kid who’s just getting confident at reading a copy of Lord of the Rings!
  • Do bring through Lord of the Rings and get them to read the first sentence.  Let them see their reading as the key that will unlock something truly amazing.
  • Change genres, styles, authors.  Mix things up.  Have a look at the “People who read x also read y” on Amazon.
  • Borrow from your library.  A lot.
  • Read.  Often.  And read aloud!  Nothing brings a book to life better than hearing it read.

Now.  If there’s one book you want your children to read, what is it?

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B is for Brewing

There’s no getting away from it, beer is expensive.  And with minimum pricing for alcohol being set, it’s only going to get more so.

Therefore, I would encourage anyone and everyone to brew their own.

I’ve been doing this since I was a student.  It’s the sort of thing students do, isn’t it.  Especially those who study microbiology and share a flat with a medical student.  It’s almost unavoidable.

What do you need?

A 5-gallon bucket with a lid is a good start.  40 Magners bottles.  A brew kit.  Water.  Sugar.  A long spoon.  Syphoning pipes (couple of meters).  Crown caps and a capper to go with them.  If you’re lucky enough to have a local brew shop, they’ll do you a starter set for a very reasonable price.  Everything needs sterilising.  You can go with Chempro from the brew shop or, if that’s not an option, Milton sterilising tablets work just as well.  With 5 kids, we naturally had a stock of these so that’s what I’ve been using for the last few years.  If you don’t have a local brew shop, there are plenty online (and on eBay, naturally).  Be warned, though, postage on the kits can be pricey as they weigh a bit – rather than putting blind faith in the online ordering system, pick up the phone and order in person.  You’ll then have someone you can ask for advice.

How long does it take?

Couple of months, start to finish, and you’ll have a very drinkable beer at the end of it (or cider, or lager, whatever you’ve brewed).  I set a St Peter’s Ruby Red kit off on Sunday morning, took about half an hour to get it up and running and that’s including the 15 minutes sterilising time everything needed.  I’ll be bottling it this Sunday, about another half hour’s work.  Then it sits in the bottles for a month or so.  You can drink it sooner, it just won’t taste as nice.  The longer it stays in the bottles, the better it gets.

What’s so good about it?

First off, the price.  The St Peter’s kit came in at under £20.  All the barrels, bottles, pipes, spoons, etc. have been used time and again over the last 20 years, so you’ve only got to buy them once.  40 pints for £20 plus an hour or so’s work.  50p a pint.  Can’t be bad.

Secondly, the variation.  Your local pubs may only serve 3 beers – and here I use the word beer in it’s broadest possible sense as my locals have a Yellow Tin, a Red Tin and Stella.  Needless to say, I don’t drink in them – so you can have a wheatbeer in the fridge whenever, a few pints of Nelson’s Revenge sat in the cupboard.

Thirdly, the experimentation.  Ah, this is where it gets really fun.  Once you’ve done a couple of kits you can start adding things.  Herbs and spices at the bottling stage.  A few ounces of dried elderflowers (available from your friendly local brew shop) added to the bucket right at the start of proceedings add a wonderful floral touch to the beer – I was that close to the Badger Brewery’s Golden Champion with that IPA.  And then there’s something even more wonderful about which I shall blog once I get to G in this list – Gingermead.

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A is for Apache…

I love chillies.  Love ’em.  Love the heat, the flavour, the smell of them in the Biltonator.  And there’s one thing better than buying them – that’s growing them yourself.

Back at the beginning of the year, I went online and bought a variety of chilli and basil seeds, planted them under grow lamps in the kitchen…

Growlamps

Today, they look like this:

Apache chilliesMore Apache Chillies

So I’m still a good way away from being able to use my own chillies in cooking.  I’ve got more plants, though – another 8 on the kitchen windowsill, a mix of Scotch Bonnet and Demon Red – but then there’s George.  George is my prize chilli plant, planted at exactly the same time as the ones in the pictures above.  Given exactly the same treatment, the same amount of light, the same time under the same growlamps.

So why does George look like this?

George

 

This is the first post in an attempt to restart my blogging.  Going to aim for a complete alphabet by the time I’ve finished.  I know there’s a linky for this somewhere, I’ll find it…