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The first Bravado nursing bra I bought felt like an incredible indulgence at nearly £20 nine years ago, but it has proved to be a worthwhile investment as it is still going strong four children later! In fact, it has been joined by several more, as these bras have seen me through nearly ten years of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The style may not be the most flattering or sexy, but for sheer comfort they win hands-down, and at least there are a few different colours and prints to choose from, so you don't need to feel totally frumpy.
The bra is designed for purpose (Bravado only make nursing/maternity bras) and it shows in features like the high cotton content (92%) for easy-breathing comfort, while stretchiness and support comes from the 8% Spandex.
The bras are styled subtly differently depending on size and level of support needed too, so that the original nursing bra comes in three slightly different styles to suit different cup sizes. Don't worry that it will be tricky to choose the correct size though, because there is a fair degree of overlap between styles and the bra is designed to adapt to fit expanding and, er, deflating breasts - you may find that there is a large difference between your cup size before and after a feed, so this is a useful attribute! There is also plenty of space for breastpads, should you need them, and the cotton is thick enough for them not to show through too obviously.
The Bravado has a wide band of elastic which gives a good supportive base and helps the fit to be as forgiving as it is. As a nursing bra this works well, but I have found that it was sometimes uncomfortable to wear in mid to late pregnancy (although this is sold as a maternity bra as well as a nursing bra) because it tended to bunch up and dig in. This is the only criticism I have, but if you want the Bravado to last you through multiple children then it may be worth noting, especially if you intend to feed through pregnancy and/or tandem feed.
The cups fasten with poppers, making it easy to fasten with one hand once you get the hang of it. I certainly found this system easier than fiddling with the hooks and eyes on other nursing bras, while the zip-up nursing bra I tried was simply painful!
The Bravado Original is a pull-on style, which is very easy to use, since the elastic at the base can just be pulled into place. The straps are adjustable and the thin elastic which holds the shoulder straps in place when the cups are unclipped is good quality so it does its job well and lasts a long time - unlike cheaper bras I have tried where the elastic has perished and left me fishing about for the fasteners. Not a good way to end a discreet breastfeed! As I said, one or two of mine have been in almost constant use for years now and are still serviceable (if not pretty!) so they certainly are made to last. It's just a shame the wide elastic doesn't always stay as flat as it should.
Besides the Original there are now other styles on offer, including one specifically for the fuller-breasted woman (the Supreme) and another (the Lifestyle) a rather slinky little number which has a cotton lining and microfibre outer layer for a smoother finish. Since this offers less adjustability than the Original it is better for use once breastfeeding has been established and your cup size less likely to fluctuate as much. There is less room for breastpads too, if this is an issue for you, but it is nice to have a nursing bra which looks so "normal" and yet still performs its function well.
As the drawbacks to disposable nappies become clear, many are turning to cloth again. One of the drawbacks to using cloth nappies can be the "Does my bum look big in this?" effect. That Tellytubby shape looks cute, but it can make it awkward to find clothes that fit! Yet without all those layers, how is an earth-friendly nappy to be absorbent enough to cope with everything your baby throws at it?
One answer is to think about the kind of material you use for the layers. Cotton is good at absorbing quickly, but it is relatively bulky and there are various issues around cotton production and its effect on the environment, given that it needs lots of water and is vulnerable to pests. Hemp, on the other hand, grows in most conditions without pesticides or fertiliser. In fact, it inhibits weed growth, enriches the soil and needs little water, making it an ecologically sound choice. Hemp fibres are naturally long and strong, which means that they can be used to make hardwearing textiles, while the hemp plant itself is reputed to have more than 30,000 known uses (none of them to do with drugs - this is hemp, not marijuana!). Not only is hemp ten times stronger than cotton, it also produces twice the yield per hectare and hemp fibres are more absorbent. Fabric made from hemp also has antibacterial and antifungal properties, making it ideal to use for nappies. If your concern is the size of that bum, though, what matters most is that hemp is considerably more absorbent than cotton, so you don't need as many layers to get the same result. You just might be able to squeeze that clothy bum into those cute trousers ;)
Having decided to use hemp, where do you go next? Ella's House is the answer! They have a selection of nappies, all made from a hemp and cotton combination, and accessories such as boosters, liners, inserts and wipes. Their keynote product, if I can describe it as such, is the Bum Hugger, so I'll start there.
Ella's House Bum Hugger (£9.95):
These are just scrummy! Snuggly, funky fleece on the inside keeps your baby feeling dry while multiple layers of hemp and cotton fleece absorb and hold any wetness. The fleece also catches solids and is stretchy enough that you can jut shake them off into the toilet at changing time, avoiding those nasty scraping/flushing/wiping sessions (and if the thought of having to scrape poo off your baby's nappy makes you reach for the disposables then you should bear in mind that you should be doing it no matter what type of nappy you use, as it is illegal to put human faeces into the bin) - a couple of pulls and twists and the Bum Hugger is clean enough to pop into the nappy bucket. An extra bonus of the fleece lining is that it makes for a soft cushy layer next to your baby's skin, which is especially reassuring if you live in a hard water area where nappies can get rather "crunchy" and less than soft.
Bum Huggers have been re-designed recently, with a soaker which pulls out for better washing and faster drying. This is a real improvement, as the only fault I had with the old style ones was that the absorbent pad was lots of layers of hemp all together with no way of opening them out. Since hemp takes ages to dry anyway this meant that my Bum Huggers were by far the slowest drying nappies I had and we reserved them for nights and long journeys because we simply could not get them washed and dried fast enough to use for every nappy change. The new style pull-out soaker not only speeds up drying but also allows you to put extra absorbency where it's needed, folding extra at the front for boys or spreading more evenly for girls.
Bum Huggers come in a range of sizes (small, large, extra large - although for most babies small and large will be enough) and with a choice of aplix (like velcro) or popper fastening. Aplix is quicker to use, but personally I much prefer poppers as all of my children seem to have mastered velcro very early on but found poppers more of a challenge - it doesn't matter how absorbent the nappy is if your baby takes it off before weeing all over the floor! Once on, the Bum Hugger fits snugly at legs and waist thanks to good elastication. We have found them to be completely bombproof!
Hemp Nappy (£8.95):
The Bum Hugger is great, but some babies react to fleece and you don't always need quite so much absorbency. If you're just looking for a simple nappy which does the job then the Ella's House plain hemp nappy could be the one for you. It shares many of the Bum Hugger's features - elastication for good fit, pull out soaker for quick drying and targetted absorbency, choice of aplix or popper fastening, range of sizes - in a neat trim nappy. Like the Bum Hugger the basic nappy is a creamy coloured natural hemp/cotton fleece, but you can customise it by adding coloured stitching and by choosing the colour of the poppers from a range of about 12. If, like us, you have a heavy wetter then you may find that you need to add extra absorbency in the form of a booster.
Boosters (£3.25 each or 5 for £15.25):
Slightly shaped, with three layers of hemp or two layers of hemp and one of polyester fleece, to add just that little extra bit of absorbency where and when you need it, these fit snugly inside a nappy or between nappy and wrap if you don't want to cover up the fleece on your Bum Hugger. There's not a lot more to say about them, except that they are useful for heavy wetters, for night times and for adding a little extra oomph without making your baby look like John Wayne! We find they fit nicely on those little clippy hangers you can get from pound shops and camping stores, which means you can dry lots of them in a small space.
Liners (90p each or 5 for £4.25):
Shaped to fit nicely inside a nappy, Ella's House polyester fleece liners give a stay dry layer between the nappy and your baby and make the nappy easier to clean because they catch any solids, which can then be shaken off into the toilet. Basically they do the same job as flushable/disposable paper liners, but with the advantage of being washable and reusable. If you're on a budget you could always make them yourself by cutting up an old fleece jumper or blanket, or you can choose from the 20-odd prints on offer at Ella's House.
Wipes (5 for £2 or 10 for £3.50):
Using washable wipes could actually save you as much money as using washable nappies! Ella's House wipes are just the right size to fit in your hand and can be used with lotions and potions or just plain water. Ideal for babies' bottoms, but also for any other time you would use a baby wipe - noses, faces, sticky fingers... If you're washing nappies anyway you can just bung them in the nappy bucket; otherwise just put them in with the next load of washing you do. Again they dry nicely on clippy hangers or you can use them straight from the wash if you want them damp anyway ;o) Of course, you could just use flannels, but these are a better size, I find (flannels lop around a bit too much!) and they come in bright funky patterns and a variety of fabrics, often with different ones each side.
One more thing:
When you first use hemp you may find it disappointing, after all these claims of absorbency. This is because hemp has lots of natural oils which will gradually disappear with washing. As the oils are stripped the absorbency increases, so the more you use it and wash it the better hemp gets!
When your baby is tiny it feels right to just hold them close. There comes a time, however, when you need to get on with things and holding your baby is just not compatible... and that's when slings and carriers come in. Quite simply, carried babies cry less so anything which helps you to carry them comfortably has to be a bonus.
The Coorie is so named because it is an old Scots word for cuddle or snuggle and that really is what this fleecy pouch feels like. Dead easy to wear - simply pop it on like a Miss World sash, then pull the outer layer away from your body to make a pouch for baby - the Coorie cradles your baby right next to your heart. When you consider how long your baby spent right there, listening to mum's heartbeat, in the womb, it is not surprising that the sound is a reassuring and soothing one for them. It's a great place to be, and while baby is held cosy and snug mum or dad has two hands free to get on with everything else.
Good points about the Coorie:
- relatively cheap (£28 new and often available second-hand for rather less).
- can be used from birth and will still be useful when your tiny bundle has become a toddling handful.
- comes in a variety of colours and patterns to suit most tastes.
- folds down small so can be popped into a handbag or pocket and kept handy.
- incredibly quick to put on; ideal for those pop-in, pop-out occasions such as carrying from car to house or a corner-shop trip.
- soft snuggly fleece washes and wears very well, and is very quick to dry.
- safety checked - conforms with BS EN 13209-2 which is the British Standard for Soft Baby Carriers.
- designed to offer support for baby's head, neck and back and to keep the spine aligned correctly.
- no leg holes means none of the infamous "crotch dangling" to which some other slings and carriers can be prone - tiny infants have their legs tucked in comfortably while older babies are supported in a good position for spinal and hip development, with knees higher than bottom.
- spreads baby's weight across your shoulder and back, avoiding aches and pains.
- easy for breastfeeding discreetly and/or on the go.
- your baby is in just the right place, close to your heart and near to your face, for cuddles, kisses and chats.
Anything else I need to know?
- Pouch slings like the Coorie are one-shoulder carriers and this does not suit everybody. If you are prone to back or shoulder problems then it may be worth looking for a different style of carrier which spreads the weight to your hips or waist and to both shoulders - a mei tai, a wrap or a soft structured carrier such as the Ergo might suit you better. Personally I like my Coorie for times when I just need a poppable carrier handy - in the car for those quick shopping trips, in my handbag for those times when my toddler wants to walk but I'm not sure she'll make it back again and so forth. If I know that we are likely to be using a carrier for more than ten minutes or so then I would probably opt for a two-shouldered one instead.
- However much your mind may tell you it is safe most people find that their instincts make them put a hand round baby's head when using a pouch sling, which means it is not really a hands free carry. If, like me, you have other little hands to hold, a buggy to push or bags to carry then you might again choose to look at other carriers instead.
- In order for your Coorie to be comfortable it must be the right size for you. The Brightsparks website has a sizing guide but however accurately you measure you cannot be sure that it will be right until you have tried it. Fortunately their customer service is excellent and I have found that it is easy to get things exchanged or even altered so that you can be sure they are right. This does mean, however, that if you and your partner both want to use the Coorie you will need one each unless you are a very similar size. On the other hand, at least that gives the option of choosing your own colours rather than having to compromise on one you can both use, and fortunately the Coorie is a relatively cheap option as good carriers go.
- Should your littlest have an older sibling you can get a doll Coorie for them to use. We found that this was a great way for our older children to feel involved and made them much less jealous of the baby having a carrier, because they had one too. The "rainbow carrier" is still regularly used not just for dolls but also cuddly toys, dinosaurs, books...
Having a fussy baby I have used a wide variety of carriers; this was and remains a firm favourite.
The Ergo can be used on front or back (and apparently also as a hip carrier, but I have not tried this), is very comfortable for both parent and child and has its own range of useful accessories, including a daypack which clips onto the carrier itself and a smaller pack which fits handily onto the waistband.The pocket on the back is just big enough for essentials and has a zip for access from the side without having to take the carrier off.
When not in use the Ergo can be folded down to a small bundle (about 35cm x 20cm x 10cm) and popped in a bag. Alternatively you can keep it clipped round your waist ready for use, either hanging down (faster but odd-looking) or rolled down into a bum-bag-sized lump.
The Ergo comes in a number of different colourways with contrasting (or matching if you prefer) lining and sleep hood. The outer is made of heavyweight cotton which will withstand considerable use and abuse, but is soft enough for comfort and does not feel hot and sweaty in use, while the lining and sleep hood (the parts which will be in contact with baby/child) are made of very soft cotton poplin. Spot cleaning is recommended for small marks, but since it is all cotton it can be machine-washed if need be. Mine has been through the machine a few times and came out looking as good as new.
The most recent, and more expensive, versions of the Ergo use organic cotton, so that you need have no worries about your baby chomping or sucking on the straps. Embroidered versions are also available, which look cool but require slightly more care in washing.
Comfort for baby:
The sleep hood is well-shaped to support baby's head and adjustable in size to suit from about 5 months to 2 years. The thin cotton means that a sleeping baby will not overheat and it can be rolled up out of the way when not in use. Beyond 2 years (or with a baby taller than the average 2 year old) the sleephood is rather less useful as it will be too low down and too small to fit comfortably and support the head.
The body of the carrier is lightly padded with cotton batting for extra comfort and support and is slightly shaped with darts to make a pouch which holds your baby close to you. This is not only cosier for your baby but it is also far more comfortable for you, since the closer to your body you are carrying weight the less you will feel it. The height of the body also means that even the wriggliest child cannot fall out and a sleepy baby is very well supported.
Comfort for you:
The waistband is wide and well-padded to distribute the weight comfortably and fastens with a wide buckle; there is also a safety loop to make completely sure that the carrier cannot fall off even if you have not fastened it properly. It is designed to fit from a 25" waist up to 43", but this will depend on exactly where you choose to wear it (I wear mine on my waist, some find it more comfortable on their hips) and very slim users may find that it will not go small enough for them. I am a UK size 10 and wear it nearly as tight as it will go. Larger users can buy a Waist Extender for around £6, which adds an extra 8" to the waistband.
The shoulder straps are well padded and fasten with buckles, although you will probably find that you never need to undo them unless you wish to do hip carrying. Loosening the straps is all that is necessary for most carries for most people. There is a chest strap, which can be moved up and down and adjusted in length to help hold the shoulder straps in just the right place and stop them from slipping. I find this very useful if I have a bag to carry as well as a child, since I can slip a bag strap over my shoulder and use the chest strap to hold that in place too! The chest strap also facilitates front carries by holding the straps together at the back (which means, I guess, that I should be calling it a chest/back strap!) so that they do not slip off your shoulders.
Thanks to all the padding and adjustability I have carried a 3 year old on my back in the Ergo comfortably for several hours on more than one occasion - the sleep hood would not have fitted her, but she was secure and cosy enough to have slept cuddled up against my neck had she wanted to. She was also in a great position to see what was going on and to chat to me easily, while I had my hands free to help my two older children with the activities they were doing, hold their hands and so on - and I did not need to worry about her running riot in a quiet museum!
I have found that the padding can be almost too much at times, though. When I am extra skinny (these things happen!) I have to be careful what I wear as the firmly padded waist/hip band has caused bruising on my hip bones more than once if I wear trousers with seams in the wrong places. It can also push the waistband of your trousers down, so that you feel you are constantly having to hitch them up - not the coolest look, I feel! Once I remembered which trousers were the culprits, though, all was well and I was able to carry my daughter in comfort and dignity.
A smaller baby can be carried if you use the infant insert (or a folded blanket) which allows them to be placed in a cradle-hold position but the Ergo really comes into its own for babies over 4-5 months and up to about 4 years. It is particularly useful for a toddler who wants to be up and down all the time, as it can be left clipped around your waist ready for use and the child popped in or out in seconds.
Personally I would not bother to use it for front carries, as I have other carriers which work much better for me. Fastening the chest/back strap behind my own back needed a degree of dexterity one step beyond my comfort zone, which meant that I could achieve an easy front carry when I had someone with me to help fasten it, but had to do a one-woman contortionist act when alone. I suspect, having seen others manage it with practised ease, that I could have found the knack if I had persevered but as I said I have other carriers I prefer. The infant insert did not work well for me either (but that's a whole other review!) and in general my advice would be that this carrier is okay for young babies but excels for older babies and toddlers.
Since the carrier is so easy to adjust my husband (over 6ft) and I can both use it with baby, toddler and even, when absolutely necessary, with an older child - it is much easier on the arms than a piggy back but holds a child in the same sort of position. It's an ideal carrier to keep tucked in the car boot or in a day bag for emergencies.
It is worth noting that there are different variants of the Ergo baby carrier. This review is based on the New Generation, rather than the Classic. You are unlikely to find a Classic new any more, but if buying second-hand it is worth checking which model you are getting, as the NG, although considerably more expensive, has more features, is more adjustable and longer in the body so will generally be useful for longer.
In fact even the Ergo New Generation has been slightly tweaked and revamped, with minor adjustments to placement of buckles and a much wider range of fabrics and colourways available. This is reflected in the price, however. A basic NG should set you back around £90, which sounds like a lot until you compare it to a premium pram or buggy, or divide it by the number of months of comfortable carrying time in a potential 3 years or more of use. The new organic version is a rather pricier £120 or you can add another £10 - £20 and opt for snazzy embroidery to pimp your baby's ride!
As for me, I bought mine second-hand and it's still going strong...
Why baby rice?
World Health Organisation guidelines suggest that babies should be exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age and then be gradually introduced to solid foods, but the reality is that many parents in this country choose to wean a little earlier than 6 months. In that case it is even more important that the first food you choose is safe and healthy for your baby and that makes an organic baby rice an obvious choice.
Rice is one of the safest foods there is allergy-wise (a total restriction diet will often take you right back to pears, rice and lamb as being the three foods least likely to cause an allergic reaction) and by opting for organic you can be sure that your precious little one is not exposed to unnecessary chemicals at this particularly vulnerable stage in his or her life.
Lizzie Vann created Organix (then Baby Organix) with its No Junk Promise in order to provide good quality food for babies. Over time their range has expanded to include food for toddlers, children and now mums as well, hence the dropping of the Baby from the name. Throughout this time their promise has been to use safe, pure, natural and nutritious ingredients and to campaign for safer food for children - their current campaign calls for a Government investigation into why pesticide residue levels on fruits are so high.
In addition to their ethics, I like the fact that Organix products are pure, with no cheap fillers, and are very clearly labelled with age recommendations and allergy information. My only reservation here is that Organix Baby Rice is still labelled as being suitable from 4-6 months when WHO advice is not to give babies solids before 6 months, but I guess they are going along with the convention in this country of starting babies off slightly younger - when all the other products on the market are labelled as from 4 months they would be at a significant disadvantage not to have anything suitable for babies younger than 6 months.
Organix Baby Rice is made from organically produced wholegrain rice, fortified with Vitamin B1(thiamin) and nothing else. There are no fillers or flavourings, so you can add your baby's usual milk to give it a familiar flavour at first, or use water and juice for a change, or add it to other purees or foods you have prepared to thicken them a little before serving. Using wholegrain rice, according to the information on the Organix website (which is, incidentally, very helpful and informative on all sorts of infant and child feeding issues) is better because "wholegrains contain more minerals, vitamins and fibre than processed grains, and take longer to digest, leaving you more satisfied."
We found Organix Baby Rice an ideal first food because it could be mixed with baby's usual milk - in our case expressed breast milk - and made runny at first, so that our son could get a first experience of foods which were not totally liquid, then slightly thicker as using a spoon became easier, then much thicker when he wanted to handle the spoon himself. One thing to watch out for though, if you do use breast milk, is that the enzymes in breast milk start to digest the rice even as you are mixing it up, so it cannot be made in advance because even the thickest mixture will turn to liquid again very quickly!
All of our children have loved their first experience of food, I think especially because the taste was familiar, so they had time to concentrate on the new experience of texture without being hit by too many new things at once. My husband and I loved the fact that it was very easy to clear up after, especially since any unused baby rice just dissolved into the milk and could be poured away!
The baby rice was very easy to use: just scoop a few teaspoonfuls into a cup and mix to a paste of whatever consistency you want by adding liquid. It was easy to get a smooth paste and very easy to adjust the consistency.
The packet is of cardboard, with a foil bag inside which has to be cut open (can be a bit of a pain if you don't have scissors or a sharp knife handy) and resealed to keep the rice fresh (we found a clip fastener, twist tie or even elastic band worked well) - or you could empty the contents into a Tupperware container if you are more organised than we are!
Like the rest of the Organix range, Organix baby rice is available in Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose, but not all supermarkets. It costs a little more than some other baby rices, but Organix products seem to be on special offer fairly regularly, so we tend to stock up then. If you wait until 6 months and your baby takes to solids quickly then you may well find you only need one or two boxes anyway, so a few pennies extra is a small price to pay for the peace of mind of using a brand you can trust.
I guess that brings me to my last point, which is that some people would ask if baby rice is necessary at all? Lots of parents now practise baby led weaning, where the puree stage is pretty much skipped and babies are encouraged to eat when they are ready to feed themselves, using things they can pick up and chew easily. We have done this to a certain extent, but I think I would say that my children have all liked things like baby rice alongside finger foods - and from my point of view it's a good way for them to practise spoon control without making too much mess!
n.b. This review has previously appeared under my name on ciao.co.uk
We have a house full of books! My husband and I are both addicted to reading and our children seem to be following suit. It makes it easy for friends and relatives to know what to buy as presents but it also means that the bookshelves are always groaning and it takes something a bit special to make its way to the front and stay there. This book appears to have that special something, at least as far as the children are concerned.
Usborne are known for the quality of their books and this one, from their "touchy-feely" range, is no exception. Our copy has been around for nearly 7 years (it was given to our oldest child that long ago) and although a little battered at the edges (well-loved) it is still going strong and looks like delighting our youngest just as much as it did her brothers and still does her sister. Author Fiona Watt and illustrator Rachel Wells have collaborated on a large number of these touchy-feely books, from "That's not my Dinosaur" to "That's not my Robot" and a fair few of them have graced our shelves, yet somehow despite the lure of cars with shiny windows, princesses with bumpy tiaras and even monsters with bobbly noses it's the puppies we always seem to come back to - perhaps my children are trying to tell me something!
This is definitely a board book; it has a solid feel to it from the start. The cover is bright and shiny, the pages are chunky and at about five inches square the whole thing is just the right size for an adult to hold and a child to help - not so big it gets in the way and not so small you end up fighting over the page-turning. There are only 5 double pages, plus the front cover, but the leaves are thick, partly to allow for all the texture to sit nicely between pages and partly because this really is a book built to be loved by babies and toddlers.
What's it about?
Like most good children's books it can be taken on a number of different levels. To my 6 month old baby this is a nice bright book with attractive pictures and lovely things to touch - she's seriously into texture just now! To my 3 year old it's a fun story with repetitive text so she knows where she stands, with pictures which have enough going on in them to provoke a discussion. She also loves to feel the textures and try to think of different ways to describe them and things that they are like. When she was two she used to enjoy finding the mouse in each picture and talking about the colours. My five year old would never ask me to read the story, but he still likes to come and join us when we're reading it - and to join in the discussions. He's old enough now to get the idea of things being lost and found again (in fact, I think we may use this as the springboard for a piece of creative writing for him and his big brother) and the font used is easy for him to read if he fancies having a go by himself. Even the seven year old will happily sit through this book (although I'm sure he'd rather be reading Horrible Histories!) and he loves to share it with his baby sister.
So what happens?
Well, not a lot really! The story, if you can call it that, starts on the front cover, a break with convention which often catches out unwary story readers! A little white mouse looks worriedly at a rather large, very hairy, puppy - a hole in the top layer of the cover allows the grey fluffy material which forms the puppy's hairy body to stick through, providing the texture for this page - and pronounces (in large letters at the top of the page), "That's not my puppy..." then explains (in small letters at the bottom of the page) "its coat is too hairy."
The next page has the same mouse, this time considering a bright pink poodle, but "That's not my puppy. Its tail is too fluffy." It is indeed a lovely fluffy tail, with fuzzy pink material peeking through just begging to be touched. And so it goes on; one puppy has paws which are too bumpy, another a collar which is too shiny and yet another ears which are too shaggy (but oh so strokeable!) until finally we come to the last page, where the mouse spreads wide its little arms and declares "That's my puppy! His nose is so squashy." and, in our house at least, we all heave a happy sigh at such a satisfactory ending - even if we would secretly have preferred it to be the puppy with shaggy ears who was right!
Who is it for?
As described above, this book could suit a fairly wide age range, but I think the age at which my children have really got most out of it has been about 3. A younger child will appreciate the textures and probably like the story with its strong repetitive text, but it is at 3 that they seem to really enjoy it. My 3 year old will ask for this time and time again, as did her brothers at the same age. One of the best things about it is that the text is so repetitive that after a few proper readings together you can rattle it off with your eyes closed (or whilst reading something else entirely - bad Mummy!) and if you pause suggestively at the appropriate bits (body part and texture) your child will probably fill it in for you!
Where can I get it and what will it cost me?
At full price (from Usborne, ELC or most bookshops) this would cost £5.99, but there are often 3 for 2 offers, or similar, on this type of book so it's worth looking around. They are often available second-hand, for example on Ebay, which is a good option given the excellent quality and longevity of the book. It's also interesting to see that it is available in other languages; we also have "Ou est mon chien?" and I have also seen "Este no es mi perrito..." on amazon - although as the latter appears to be going for between £31.47 and £242.82 you may, like me, feel that it's a little steep for a toddler board book!
This review has previously appeared under my name at www.ciao.co.uk
My seven year old son and I spotted this book on a friend's bookshelf and took it down for a closer look. We were instantly hooked and it appeared on his Christmas list for obliging grandparents to buy. We've been dipping into it ever since, not only for recipes but also for general information and ideas.
The River Cottage Family Cookbook is written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a broadcaster and campaigner well-known for his commitment to real food, and Fizz Carr, a journalist with five daughters and a passion for animal welfare and for the education of children about food and where it comes from. It shows.
The book is packed full of real photos of real situations with real children from real families; there is nothing posed or staged about the action pictures and we are allowed to see the imperfect results as well as the occasional beautifully lit foodie shot. And when I say packed, I really do mean packed! Barely a page goes by without a picture of some sort, and the whole book is interlarded with full page and double page colour photographs. This makes reading it an incredibly visual experience and really helps to catch a child's attention. In addition, a few of the recipes have step by step picture instructions, making them particularly easy to follow. The pictures are not the glossy perfect finish of a cookery magazine, however, but rather action shots - a child's hand punching down a bowl of dough, little fingers pinching pasta into bow shapes, a pancake mid-toss. It's almost like seeing freeze-frames from a cookery programme.
What is a Family Cookbook?
The book begins with an introduction setting out the premise of a family cookbook as "a book that everyone in the family can pick up and use." The authors confidently expect that a child from the age of about 10-12 will be able to use it with a little adult help, while older children should be able to tackle most of the recipes unaided. There's lots in there for adults and younger children too, and a wide enough range of recipes to make it suitable for anyone of any age who wants to learn to cook and is interested in the why as well as the how.
Why we like it:
Our favourite feature of this cookbook is not that the recipes are clearly laid out and easy to follow, although that is helpful. It is not that everything is brightly and engagingly presented, although that is what attracted our interest in the first place. It is not even that the recipes included cover everything from boiled eggs to profiteroles, though that has widened our culinary scope. It is rather that there is so much more to this than just a cookery book. The recipes are really the icing on the cake, because what is at the heart of this book is a love of food and all the issues surrounding food. The amount of extra information included is incredible and offers so much more of an experience than just cooking! We spend at least as long planning and reading about what we might make as we do preparing it, and all of that time we are reading, chatting and learning together.
To accommodate all this information, the book is divided into chapters according to the major food group involved, then the recipes are chosen to fit into that section. For example, the first chapter is on flour, beginning with a photo montage of images from flour production (combine harvester) through use (bread being made, dough kneaded, pastry rolled, pizza dough stretched) to final product (freshly cooked raisin bread loaf, scone with jam and a bit taken out of it) and a little introductory paragraph extolling the uses and importance of flour. Turn the page and there are three further pages describing different types of flour, how they are made and used and why different flours are good for different recipes (gluten is the key!). There's even a bit of history in the link between cereal crops and the development of settlements and civilisations - and we're still only a few pages in! Logically enough, we move from flour to bread, starting with a general background and moving on to discussion of why you should bother to make your own bread (taste, satisfaction and being able to eat it warm from the oven), the importance of yeast, types of flour, how to knead, what shape to make your loaf, ideas for adapting basic recipes... and then a project to try capturing wild sourdough yeasts. A quick idea for yeast-free (and faster) soda bread and then we're on to the next section: pasta - shapes, types, a project to make your own pasta dough and then it's on to pizza, then pastry, then flatbreads. Each section is set out clearly, with bold coloured titles and smaller subheadings, often in the form of questions. Recipes are referenced so that you can have a go at making the things you are reading about and the sections are easy to skip if you just want to get straight to the cooking but are interesting enough to read by themselves even when you have no intention of cooking at that time.
When you do get to the recipes they are very clearly laid out and easy to follow. The name of the dish appears as a coloured heading, followed by a brief description of introduction, then a section listing everything you will need (not just ingredients, but also equipment) in bold colour. The instructions are broken down into small, simple steps with enough descriptive details to make it easy to see when you are doing it right - an important consideration for youngsters cooking alone or inexperienced cooks following a new recipe. Each step is numbered, making it easier to keep track of where you are up to, and at the end of each recipe is a suggestion of how to eat what you have made and a list of possible variations you might like to try. The extra information and the variations mean that the book equips you to cook vastly more dishes than it lists; once you have mastered the basic idea you can tinker with it and create new dishes and variations - all part of developing confidence in the kitchen and a love of good food.
The recipes cover a good range of basic dishes, including meals as well as individual dishes. There is an entire chapter devoted to that key food group, chocolate, and each recipe has suggestions for variations too. It gives an excellent grounding in both the theory and the practical preparation of a wide variety of foods.
It's not a cheap book. RRP is around £25 (for the hardback edition; I've not come across a paperback version), although you may well be able to pick it up for less - it's currently listed for £15.27 on www.amazon.co.uk, for example. The wealth of information and advice it provides, however, is well worth this price, and given how readable the book is it's likely to find its way out of the kitchen and onto the family bookshelves every so often, before being taken back into the kitchen for the next cooking session. A cookery course would almost certainly cost more and probably tell you less.
(n.b. This is an updated version of a review posted by me on Ciao.co.uk)
The first wraparound carrier I ever bought was an Ellaroo and it was a revelation! I was able to cuddle my baby up close to me and still have my hands free for other children, shopping bags, piles of washing and all the other things in a mother's day. The wrap spread the weight so well that I could barely tell she was there. With just a little practice I could even breastfeed in the wrap - and nobody ever noticed! My baby loved it and was instantly soothed by being swaddled up next to me, and I was able to adjust the carrier to support her head in sleep or let her look around when awake.
Once she was a bit bigger (and heavier!) we switched from front to back carries. It was a bit scary to get her on the first few times so we practised kneeling on a double bed and soon had the tying time down to less than a minute. Hip carries are possible too - this is a very versatile carrier.
The Ellaroo weave is very light and thin, so it is good for summer, but it is quite grippy which makes it easy to use as it holds the knot well. A small amount of diagonal stretch means that it moulds itself well both to you and your baby, which makes for a comfortable carry, but also allows it to stretch a little with a heavy baby, so it is not quite as supportive as some other, sturdier, weaves.
Woven in Guatemala, it is made of 100% cotton and dyed with non-toxic dyes, so even if your baby likes to chew on the wrap you can be sure it will do them no harm. It is available in three sizes, but unless you are very petite or very large a Medium (4.6m) will work for most carries you are likely to want to do.
My Ellaroo was lent around lots and converted several other mums to wrapping, especially those with sicky or colicky babies, as a wrap holds them in a good position for comfort and is easy to clean. The manufacturers recommend handwashing for this wrap, but I just threw mine in the washer on a wool cycle with no problems; you can even tumble dry if need be.
It is a great starter wrap which comes in some gorgeous colourways (or plain black if that's more your thing) at a very reasonable £49 or so, but if you wish to keep carrying as your baby gets heavier (beyond about 18 months/2 years for most) you may want to look into the more expensive German-style woven wraps. It may also help to know that there is a thriving market for second-hand wraps and carriers, so there is a good chance you will be able to sell or trade it on when your carrying days are done or you fancy a change. I no longer have my Ellaroo as one mum who borrowed it couldn't bear to give it back - I sold it to her and replaced it with a Didymos :)