Kale and butter bean curry

An overload of kale due to a shopping error has meant that I’ve had to think of numerous ways to use it up. I came across a recipe for kale and chickpea curry tonight ( http://www.harighotra.co.uk/kale-and-chickpea-curry-recipe ) and decided to give it a try. As usual however, I didn’t have quite the right ingredients – no chickpeas for a start. What’s more, I prefer my curries slightly milder than this recipe suggests.

Here is my version of the ingredients

Serves 2 Generously 

  • Half a teaspoon of mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed.
  • 1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of coriander seeds, crushed
  • Half a teaspoon of turmeric
  • Half a teaspoon of hot chilli powder
  • A heaped teaspoon of mild curry powder
  • A teaspoon of madras curry powder 
  • 1 tin of butter beans (or whatever protein source takes your fancy – this would probably work well with quorn pieces)
  • 200g chopped kale
  • Handful of chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil
  1. Heat the oil in a lidded pan until it is hot. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, which will begin to pop. Stir quickly and replace the lid. Take care not to let them burn by stirring every  20 seconds or so, but allow them to pop with the lid on. This will take a minute or two.
  2. Add the onion and turn down the heat. Allow it to cook, stirring regularly to ensure it doesn’t stick or burn, until it turns golden.
  3. Add the garlic, stir and cook briefly. 
  4. Add the tomato, the crushed coriander seeds and all the other spices (turmeric, hot chilli powder, mild chilli powder, madras curry powder) allow the mixture to cook gently with the lid on until it thickens up. This will probably take about 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in the chopped kale in batches allowing it to cook and reduce in size before adding the next lot.
  6. Cook the kale to your preference – the longer you cook it the softer it will be. Ours still had some bite, which I think gave some variety of texture to the dish.
  7. Serve, generously sprinkeld with fresh chopped coriander, either with rice or flat breads.

This would be very nice with some cucumber raitia. I thought it was surprisingly tangy, almost as it it had had a touch of lemon or lime added.

I have been tracking my diet using the popular ‘My Fitness Pal’ app. Here are the nutritional values for this recipe, according to the app.

Per person ( i.e. half the recipe)

  • Calories 298
  • Fat (g) 3.3
  • Sodium (mg) 84.8
  • Potassium (mg) 524.7
  • Carbohydrate (g) 39.4
  • Fibre (g) 18.4
  • Sugars (g) 8.5
  • Protein (g) 17.4
  • Vitamin A (%) 9.2
  • Vitamin C (%) 87.9
  • Calcium (%) 14.8
  • Iron (%) 7.9

Holidays in term time – my view

A case file is being prepared by the Attendance and Welfare department at my local council because I chose to take my children on holiday in term-time and refused to pay the fixed penalty notice that they served me with. Should the legal department choose to go ahead and prosecute me, I could be fined up to £2000 or in the worst possible case given a custodial sentence.

Needless to say, I am very, very angry and I would like to explain why.

If you are reading this and you are in a similar situation please remember that the views I am going to express are not those of a legal expert. If I know something to be a fact I will try to make that clear, likewise, if I am simply expression an opinion, I will also try to make that clear. It is very important to distinguish between the two.

So, what does the law say? The relevant piece of legislation is the Education Act of 1996, part VI, Chapter II, section 444 (1). This clause states

 

If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence.

 

The critical part of this clause is the use of the word regularly. If my children are absent from school for a week but have 100% attendance for the rest of the academic year, is that regular attendance?

In the well-publicised case of Jon Platt and the Isle of Wight Council, both the local magistrates and the High court agreed that a family holiday, taken in term-time could not be considered to make a child’s attendance ‘irregular’. They agreed that the child’s attendance should be considered over the whole academic year, not just over the period of one week when they were away. A benchmark of 90% attendance was considered to constitute ‘regular attendance’.

So why are so many parents being issued with ‘fines’ or ‘fixed penalty notices’ as they are more properly known (strictly they are not fines, the courts issue those)? First of all, it is important to know that if you have been issued with a fixed penalty notice (FPN) it is because the Head Teacher of your children’s school has referred the matter to the council and asked them to go ahead and issue one. It is quite possible for children who are on holiday to be marked on the register with an unauthorised absence but the Head Teacher DOES NOT have to ask for a FPN to be served.

In many ways this is sensible – it allows Head Teachers to show some common sense and humanity. There are many families who have no choice about when they can take a holiday from work due to the regulations of their employer. Some families have (other) children with special needs who cannot cope with the crowds that holidays outside of term time bring. Perhaps a family wedding has been arranged overseas? I would hope that head teachers would not stand in the way of families attending. There are examples of Head Teachers up and down the land taking the time to understand the needs of children and families in their school and making allowances for absence during term time. But there have been some Head teachers who have shown no sympathy whatsoever. I would like to make it clear that I am not applying this to the head teacher at my children’s school who I know has been helpful to families who need time off.

But back to the question, why are so many FPN’s being served? Most parents remember a time when schools were relaxed about term-time holidays. Since our school days, the Department of Education has changed the guidelines it issues to Heads. Where once, Heads could authorise family holidays, they are now directed to authorise them only in ‘exceptional circumstances’. How a head teacher interprets that can vary widely from school to school. And, as we have already seen, an unauthorised absence does not necessarily result in a FPN. So what is the benefit of issuing a FPN?

It would seem to me that the main aim is to deter parents from taking term-time holidays and you might consider that a worthy aim. I will address that point later on. You might agree with the Department of Education’s view that ‘every school day counts’ (I happen to disagree strongly, but again, more on that later). You may even agree with the way that OFSTED use attendance to judge a school. Schools will never achieve an ‘outstanding’ judgment unless their attendance figures are relatively high. I cannot tell you that this is factually true or even what level of attendance would be required but I can tell you that that is what a local school governor told me. Head Teachers who want their schools to be rated ‘outstanding’ (and show me one who doesn’t) need to get the attendance of pupils up. So, I ask you, is attendance about improving educational standards, or improving an OFSTED rating? You can decide which is more important to you. You may believe that one flows from the other. I don’t.

The cynical view of FPN’s is that they are a good way to squeeze a bit more cash from otherwise decent, law-abiding citizens. I have no idea if councils actually end up making any profits from them but one thing is for sure, the cash raised does not go directly to schools. One thing is for sure, many, many parents will simply pay the FPN and accept it as a worthwhile price to pay for a holiday when it suits them. If I had done that, it would have been financially, completely worth it.

So why didn’t I just pay? When you pay the FPN you are admitting to an offence and you may be asked to disclose it if you apply for a job. Fixed penalty notices were originally introduced by the Labour government, in 2003 as part of the Anti-Social Behavior Act. They were a way of quickly dealing with anti-social behavior without going to court. You could simply accept you were guilty of a crime, pay the ‘fine’ and avoid the expense (to the taxpayer) of court. The legislation was drafted so that it could be applied in the case of school absence, but it is unlikely that it was intended to be used against anyone other than persistent truants. I simply believe, like Jon Platt, that I have NOT committed any offense. Looked at over the course of an academic year, rather than one week, my children have very good attendance.

Having got the facts (as I understand them) out of the way, I would like to tell you about my case.

I have three children all in the same primary school. They are in year 6, year 4 and reception. In this academic year, my eldest and youngest children have each had two days off sick, in line with the school’s policy of not bringing children in who have been exposed to vomiting or diarrhea. My eldest son has had a total of three and a half days off due to medical appointments in a city 45 minutes drive away. This is because he was treated for childhood leukaemia between the ages of 3 and 6. We do not choose for his appointments to be in term-time or in a hospital far from our home. Neither do we enjoy waiting up to two hours each time to see his consultant, a very busy man, whose schedule can be disrupted instantly if a very sick child is admitted. These absences are beyond our control. My daughter has had no time off at all, other than our holiday.

My children are very well behaved, mostly achieving at or above the expected level and are very happy at school. The only exception is my eldest son who has specific learning difficulties with spelling. It IS likely his attendance in the early years, while he was coping with cancer, has had a serious impact on this. After all, I seem to remember that in Reception, his attendance may have been as low as 65% and I think it was just over 80% in year 1. No school attendance officer or school nurse offered us any support at that time. He is, however performing well in numeracy and I have paid a LOT of money to take him to a private tutor to help his literacy.

Do I sound like someone who deserves to be prosecuted for failing to ensure a good and regular education for my children.

Up until February of this year, we had NEVER taken the children out of school. Not for a single day. My children have always had very simple caravan holidays in the UK because that is what we could afford and we were quite happy about that. I’m not really massively in favour of taking children out of school. But this year I got a bit emotionally involved in the idea of an overseas holiday.

Early in the academic year, our school proposed to take Year 6 children to France (Calais to be precise). If I remember correctly, they would have gone by bus on a Monday in the middle of May and returned the following Friday. We live in the North-East of England so accounting for the travelling time, that would mean they would have had approximately 3 days in the Calais environs (which is barely France if you ask me). The trip would have cost about £450. This proposal hit a very raw nerve.

I had never been able to afford the joy of taking my children overseas. Firstly because when you have a child on cancer treatment, it is not a good idea to take them more than a few hours travelling time from their hospital. If your child has the kind of leukaemia my son had, that means you aren’t going to be going very far for 3 years. So, until he was 6 and in year 2 at school, we couldn’t really go far, even if we wanted to. Following that, I didn’t take the children out of school because I was happy to teach them that we were living within our means and doing the right thing with regard to the importance of schooling.

But when the school proposed an overseas trip, I felt cheated. It may be stupid, but I still feel emotional about it now. I wanted to be the one to introduce my child to foreign travel and the excitement that that brings. I wanted to be able to share that with him and if I could travel in term-time, I would be able to afford it. For the £450 it would cost for the school trip, our whole family could have rented a caravan in France. Perhaps that was selfish of me and I should have seen the trip as an opportunity for him but I made my choice and wouldn’t let him go.

I went to school and talked to the deputy head. Stupidly, I couldn’t control my emotions when I spoke to her and told her that if the trip went ahead I would take my children overseas myself, regardless of whether the absence was authorised or not. I was assured that the absence WOULD NOT be authorised. This is the point when I started to feel that the system was wrong. How can it be ok for a school to remove children for an overseas trip, but a parent cannot?

Ah, but I hear you cry, a school trip is educational. Well, yes, it may well be, but so might a family holiday. Would it not be educational to spend a week in London, seeing the sights and discussing their relevance to our history and culture? I would argue that ANY family holiday is educational in some way or other, even a week on the beach at Bognor, And I’m not the only one. Psychologists have looked at the effect of quality family-time on the brain and surprise, surprise, it turns out that holidays are good because they have the effect of ‘resetting’ the brain in a way that primes them for learning.

I was offered the opportunity to take my family skiing for a week. The trip was to be paid for my Mum, who was as excited as me to be able to give the children such an experience. It was a very expensive holiday but had we taken it the following week, it would have been almost double. If you are in any doubt about how expensive a week skiing is, self-catering, for 6 people, in France, in half term, just Google it. It’s a LOT! There’s a reason why skiing tends to be the preserve of the privileged.

I offered no explanation to the school as to why I was taking the holiday when I did, other than on the grounds of cost. I should probably have lied and said it was the only time my husband could get time off. But I am not generally a liar and quite frankly, I didn’t think I should HAVE to justify myself. I, as the one with parental responsibility made a judgment that a week learning to ski, being exposed to a new sport, environment and language was a good use of my children’s time.

It would seem that my local secondary schools are both of the same opinion. They both offer skiing trips of the same duration, in term time. I can only assume that they don’t request fixed penalty notices to be issued to the families of all the children that go.

The Department for Education has published research that shows the impact of absence from school on attainment at the end of Key Stage 2. Of course it concludes that lower attendance is accompanied by lower attainment. However, when it is broken down according to the reason for the absence, a different picture emerges. The rate of attainment stays about the same at around 75% of pupils achieving level 4 or over, regardless of whether they have missed up to 20% (yes, 20%!) of sessions, when it is due to family holidays. For all other reasons, including authorised absences, attainment drops down. The main contributing factors that reduce attainment are when children are excluded or if they are missing school as a result of being part of the travelling community. What I would draw from this is that family holidays do not impact adversely on learning. I might even be so bold as to say that the value parents place on education is a much stronger indicator of likely pupil attainment, than absence.

For me, the bigger picture is not about what does or doesn’t impact on learning. For me, this is about three main issues:

  1. Parents having the right to choose what is best for their children.
  2. The fact that legislation is being used for a purpose other than which was originally intended.
  3. Use of  FPN’s in this way discriminates against children from poorer households who will find it difficult to access a family holiday other than in term time.

It also bothers me that I now feel relatively victimised by the Head Teacher at my children’s school. I know that not all family holidays have been referred for a FPN. Whilst I am pleased for the families that haven’t had this stress and I know that they had good (though not ‘exceptional’) reasons for their holidays, it leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth.

If you agree with my views and wish the government to think again about how FPN’s are being used to criminalise parents, I suggest you take a look at this Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/schoolfinesrefund/ and consider supporting Jon Platt’s continuing fight with a small financial contribution.

N.B. I wrote this piece back in June. At the time I was feeling extremely cross about the situation I was in. I have since heard that I will not be prosecuted, but that is  (probably) only because under section 123 of Magistrates Court Act the council have 6 months to institute proceedings from date of the offence. Should I be referred for another FPN, there is a good chance I could have proceedings instigated against me in court.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running – I don’t love it, but….

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…I get to spend half an hour or so with my favourite tunes blasting into my ears. Listening to my iPod can transport me back to being a teenager again, which is guaranteed to make me feel good.

…I love the fact that I could outpace my teenage self! I couldn’t run 5km when I was 16.

…when I run past people, they don’t know if I’ve been out running for 5 miles or 5 minutes! I can pretend to be Paula Radcliffe.

…I’m setting an example for my children.

…I’m doing what I can to stay healthy. Running/jogging/brisk walking for half an hour, three times a week will not only help to keep my weight manageable, and therefore reduce my risk of diabetes and cancer but will keep my cardiovascular system in good condition too. Weight bearing exercise is also good for keeping the bones strong and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

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…exercising outdoors is good for the soul. I watch the seasons change through the blooming of the hedgerows. Sometimes I’ve got to go in search of a nice woodland trail to get a hit of bluebells or wild garlic in flower but I’m just as happy running through the neighbourhood and enjoying the gardens change from snowdrops to daffodils to roses.

…it costs me nothing but time. This can be a bit of clincher. There’s no doubt that I’ve made time to do this now that my youngest is at nursery and I know it’ll be even easier when September comes and he’s at school full time. I take my hat off to all you working parents who fit your exercise in around other commitments.

…it’s taught me that commitment works. Why has it taken me 40 years to get a better understanding of this?

…if I want to stick at training, I need a target. My motivation is limited otherwise. Last year it was the ‘Total Warrior’ in August, and indeed, we are doing that again soon. This year, I started the year training for the Keswick Mountain Festival 10km trail run. My training wasn’t really as good as it should have been, but at least I did enough to complete the race.

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If you want to get active and run, I highly recommend downloading the NHS Choices couch to 5k app. It is really well paced for a complete beginner. You won’t believe how
quickly you can build up from running for just a minute and a half to a full half an hour. You don’t need expensive shoes – mine cost about £14 and I’ve been wearing them for over a year with no problem. The one thing I would invest in is a decent bra – it will make a massive difference to you comfort. I like the ‘Shock Absorber’ brand, which I’ve recently seen for sale in Go Outdoors.

Happy running everyone.

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Cheap Dinners: Tomato Risotto with Butter Beans.

Lately I’ve been feeling less and less like eating meat. I haven’t given up eating it but I just don’t feel inspired by cooking meat dishes.

I also find that if I need a quick meal, meat is not my friend. I tend to buy meat cuts that are better cooked long and slow, because they are cheap. I rarely have chicken breasts in my fridge or freezer.

However, I ALWAYS have tinned tomatoes, rice and usually some sort of tinned bean. Together they can be combined into a simple, nutricious supper.

Here is what you need.

1 onion diced

2 small cloves of garlic diced very finely

tablespoon of tomato puree

25g butter

1 tbs oil

250g risotto rice

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tin butter beans

IMG_5034Gently fry the chopped onions and garlic in the oil and butter until soft. It’s very important to do this well because you don’t want hard, sharp tasting onions in the final dish.

Add the rice and mix well. Fry the rice for a few minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes a splash of boiling water and a tablespoon of tomato purée.

Allow the mixture to simmer and stir frequently or it will stick. You may need to keep adding a little more boiling water.

When the rice is cooked it should be soft and without ‘bite’. Stir in the beans and allow them to heat.

Season with salt and pepper. I garnished mine with a little grated parmesan and a small blob of wild garlic pesto but basil pesto would be nice too.

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There are a million ways you could change this recipe – more onions, different beans, some herbs, diced chopped vegetables, a few frozen peas or sweetcorn. In it’s most simple form it is cheap, cheerful, tasty and nutritious – I’m sure I heard someone once say that all the amino acids a person needs can be found in a combination of rice and beans. So, if you’re stuck for a quick meal, this could be just the thing.

Easter Holiday Traditions

A few years ago I heard Steve Biddulph, author of ‘Raising Boys’ speak about parenting. One of the things that struck me was how he talked about traditions. I hope I’m not misquoting him but I seem to remember his speech going along these lines “Children who have grown up in happy families look back on their youth and say ‘remember when…’ as parents we have to provide the traditions that our children will remember with fondness”. He talked about families that spent one night a week all ‘camping out’ on mattresses in the same bedroom to illustrate that traditions don’t have to be expensive, they just require the willing input of the family, particularly the parents.

This all comes to mind now, as I look back on our recent Easter holidays. Traditions are becoming ingrained within my family and our friends family, who we share our break with. This year is the third year that we have spent time together at my Sister and Brother-in-law’s farm in Cumbria, in their simple holiday cottage. You can see posts from last year and the year before herehere and here. You may notice that I take pretty much the same photos every year, all that changes is the weather and the size of the children.

Every year our children look forward to helping out with activities on the farm. They herd the sheep, feed the lambs, look for eggs, fill up the hopper on the turnip masher (I’m sure there is a proper name for this bit of farming kit but I don’t know what it is), throw straw around in a vain attempt to put bedding down for the cows, feed and water the indoor sheep and venture up to the fell top to feed to the hardier sheep up there. Then there is playtime; they build straw bale castles with their cousins, splash stones in the stream, collect ‘crystals’ from out of the stream, kick a football and ride a bike. Together we have Easter egg hunts and walks over the fell, share meals and bedtime rituals. As each year passes, they have more things to look forward to as they remember the things they did the year before. Long may it last. We are already booked in for next year!IMG_4694 IMG_4699 IMG_4712 IMG_4755 IMG_4662 IMG_9752 IMG_4677 IMG_9758 IMG_9761 IMG_4681 IMG_9790 IMG_9836 IMG_4738 IMG_4746 IMG_4745IMG_4750IMG_9846IMG_9861IMG_9867IMG_9870IMG_9895IMG_9898IMG_9899

Crack up for Childhood Cancer

IMG_4160Over five years ago I received the news that my eldest child had leukaemia. It didn’t come as an enormous shock to me, he had clearly been unwell for a while. I didn’t feel hysterical, shocked or even tearful as you might expect. I felt relieved. Relieved that there was a reason why my son couldn’t climb the stairs, why he was falling more frequently, why his joints had been troubling him and why he looked so ill and grey. I was relieved that his diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) meant that he could be treated with a highly refined and successful protocol. In many ways I think we have been lucky. He has been off any treatment for over two years now. The risk of relapse is very low indeed and he is a normal, healthy boy. You can read more about our experiences here.

Five years ago, things were very different. Although the treatment for his form of ALL is all delivered on an outpatient basis, he spent most of December in hospital because of how ill it made him. He was anaemic and required blood transfusions, he had infections and at times he was in a lot of pain. Whenever he was admitted to hospital, one of the things that got us through was laughter. Despite his young age (he was only three) he could ‘get’ certain jokes. We tried our best to find simple gags to keep him (and us) laughing. One of my best friends, whose brother had died of leukaemia ten years earlier (he was much older and had a lot more complications due to his other health issues) got her Mum to collect the jokes from Christmas crackers for us. It was a great idea and now I want to resurrect it.

Last week I got the news that a little boy we have known since his birth has a tumour that is likely to need some fairly aggressive chemotherapy in the New Year. It is fair to say that I was more shocked and horrified by this news than I was about my own son’s cancer. His parents have a lot to think about at the moment because his cancer is rarer and requires more specialised treatment. At times like this it is natural to want to help but really, there is only so much you can do. I will certainly be making some one-pot home cooked meals to give them because I know how much I appreciated such things when my boy was sick. I will keep my appointments to give blood because I know how important transfusions are in cancer treatment. But what I want to do most of all is find something to make this little boy smile when times are tough.

I had a brain wave on Wednesday. It was Christmas dinner day at my children’s school and all the children get a cracker. I quickly rustled up a cracker shaped container and enlisted the help of the Deputy Head to collect all the jokes. The staff and children did a brilliant job of donating their jokes – we collected well over 100. Of course, lots of them are the same joke repeated but it feels good to know that everyone played their part.

So, I want your help. Send me your cracker jokes, send me your ‘Doctor, Doctor’ jokes, send me any jokes that will make an eight year old laugh and I will pass them on. You can leave them in the comments here. If you are local I will collect the actual jokes from the crackers from you. If you are not local but want to send me the jokes from inside your crackers, mention it in your comment and I will let you know how to post them.

I really hope that you can help me out this Christmas because it is going to be a difficult New Year for my friends. Anything that can help them through this will be much appreciated.

P.S. I’d rather keep this off Facebook/Twitter etc. at the moment because I want it to be a surprise.

Getting out

IMG_8706I’ve been feeling a bit cooped up lately. Maybe it’s winter time, maybe it’s the demands of a toddler who is swiftly growing up, knows his own mind and seems to require a lot more ‘entertaining’. It used to be the case that I could scoop him up and drag him out to the shops to do the errands without much complaint. Lately I feel like it’s a struggle to get him out of the house and away from the television. Whatever the reason, last Monday felt like a good day to escape to one of our local parks. The weather was fine and mild…

IMG_8725 but the play area was empty.

IMG_8686These are the days that I feel I should be taking advantage off. I know that when school really takes over there will be no more empty play areas. However, proper school, reception year, is a long way off yet. Plenty of time for getting out and about.

IMG_8694My boy is pretty confident in his climbing and balancing. It’s just a shame he didn’t have his siblings to play with.

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IMG_8710I had a few opportunities to enjoy the bits and pieces of nature scattered around by the previous weeks high winds. Babykins wasn’t really interested.

IMG_8716I am always drawn to looking at lichen it’s so delicate. Silly really but I do like both the texture and subtle colours.

IMG_8720In the low winter sunlight even the dried up leaves with grass sticking through looked pretty.

IMG_8727So, our little trip out was fun and certainly made me feel a bit better about keeping on with the parenting…