Jamie and Me (Part 2 of my Julie and Julia project)

As described in my post: Working-Mom Problem No.1: Feeding the Hoard this winter I have decided to work through my hoard of cookbooks in an attempt to find new family recipes that I can cook quickly in the evenings that are both delicious and nutritious.

This week I continue with some meals from Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food. Jamie’s website gives the recipe for these dishes (and a few variations) so I won’t repeat the instructions or ingredients here. This week I tried Baked Camembert Pasta and Chicken and Leek Stroganoff.


Baked Camembert Pasta

Straight up I am going to tell you this is delicious. It is poured cheese over pasta. Always a winner. However, it terms of a family meal this misses the target a little bit. Its too rich for my toddler to enjoy, there is not enough to feed a whole family of adults and if there were any leftovers, they would be a clump of solidified cheese and pasta – uck! and there is no protein – I had to add chicken. So while I enjoyed this as a special treat (and I might keep it in my back pocket for valentines or birthdays) – a family recipe it is not.

On the Working Mom’s Scale

  1. Its super delicious but calorific ….. 3/10
  2. Cooking was quick and easy …. 7/10
  3. Leftovers were awful …. 3/10
  4. Not suitable for my toddler because of the molten hot cheese … 5/10

Overall 4.5/10

Chicken Leek

Chicken and Leek Stroganoff

This was a total hit. It is yummy, everyone loved it, it was quick. Ding ding ding, we have a winner – this is going straight into the family cookbook.

On the Working Mom’s Scale

  1.  There is cream and butter, so while its good its not great in terms of the calories …7/10
  2. Simple and quick … 8/10
  3. Leftovers were perfect ….8/10
  4. Everyone liked it …. 8/10

Overall 8/10

Working-Mom Problem No.1: Feeding the Hoard


The weather is getting colder, the nights longer, the clocks are going back and that means only one horrifying fact to my family …. the slow cooker is going to be taken out and pressed into use again.

It’s not that they dislike tender meat stews, or vegetable stews, or spicy stews, or chicken stew, or beef stew, it’s just that there is only so much of stew one family can take before even the most delicious stew resembles gruel from a gulag.

The slow cooker had been the answer to all my working-mom problems. Prepare it the ingredients the night before (or mass prepare at the weekend), bang the stuff into the slow cooker in the morning while you are waiting for someone to get out of the bathroom and press start. Twelve hours later you will have a belly-warming … stew.


Every night for five months.

After which even the carnivore was happy to see summer salads arrive again.

This year (in what I feel was a deliberate act of sabotage) the kid, the dog and the husband accidentally threw a ball indoors and it knocked the slow cooker off its shelf causing the bowl to crack. Much to their wisely-well-hidden disappointment I managed to repair it, but being the benevolent dictator I am, I felt compelled to find an alternative solution least there be another uprising that cannot be repaired with ceramic paste.

So I have turned to my many, many cook books. Cook books which proclaim that recipes can be cooked in 30 minutes. Cook books which declare that they have nutritious family friendly recipes that all the family will enjoy. Cook books that claim they can teach anyone to cook. Well I’m going to put them to the working-mom test.

My requirements as a working-mom are

  1. Nutritious food that is tasty but not calorie laden.
  2. Can be cooked quietly when the baby is asleep or quickly when the baby is awake and ‘helping’.
  3. Preparation time should take no more than 20min, although cooking in the oven can take up to one hour, but no longer.
  4. Can ideally be cooked on Day 1, with leftovers for Day 2 (thus meaning every night is not a cooking night, but we get a well cooked meal every night).
  5. Is suitable for all the family:
    1. my husband who insists it’s not a proper meal without meat,
    2. me who insists that there are some healthy vegetables,
    3. my toddler son who has to be able to eat at least part of it with his hands,
    4. my grand-father who is suspicious of overly-spicy meat in case its gone off (apparently its something to do with a war, who knows),
    5. my parents who are open-minded but prefer the meals they recognise.
    6. my dad who is coeliac

Just to clarify, I don’t have the whole family around every night, but the new recipes I am about to learn I will use for the next forty/fifty years (possibly longer), so they have to be versatile enough for my increasingly crazy family (who I love!).

So with that in mind I am taking on my own Julie and Julia project as I work my way through my mountain of cook books and rate them on the working-mom scale.

It is never ok to bring your children to work.

Baby Office

I have to admit, before having my son, I was not maternal. Kids were grand, but unless I had some family or emotional connection to them, I could take them or leave them. I didn’t find them all so cute. I didn’t like looking at pictures of them, and unless the story of your kid has a funny punch line, I didn’t want to hear it.

Some of that is still true, but I have softened a bit now that I have my own boring stories and pictures to retaliate with.

When I worked in a large office, every so often somebody who was out on maternity leave would stop in to show off their baby. The office would stop for ten minutes and we would all look and congratulate the new mom, but then we would go back to work, and she would understand that it was time for her to get on with the business that brought her to the office in the first place – usually it was to meet her manager to confirm her return date and then go for lunch with her work friends so they could fill her in on the gossip she had missed.

At no other time did babies or children attend the office.

So I was horrified when Nicola Cassidy of Ladynicci.com in guest blog on HerFamily.ie said she brought her baby with her to new job’s strategy meeting. Either that mom has a very different baby from mine, or she attends very different meetings.

For me, outside of work, my son comes everywhere with me. He is put in the car seat and we run errands, meet friends, whatever. He is a docile and easily amused young soul. But even when I meet friends now with him, it’s not the same as when I do without.

When he is there he demands attention, whether he means to or not. I’ll be chatting and he will suddenly need changing, so I will have to leave the table to do that. Or we will be getting to a good part of a story and he will bang the table with a toy and the train of thought will be lost. Babies demand attention, and, for most people, it is in our hard-wiring to give it.

So bringing a baby to a business meeting is a big no-no for me. You are not getting the best from the meeting, and nor can the people you are meeting. So unless the meeting is to sign the baby up to a modelling agency where the agent has to look the young tot in the eye, why have them there?

Perhaps it’s because I was raised by a working Mom, who was raised by a working Mom, I have these opinions. They very clearly separated home life from work life. My Mum and Grandma were different in work than they were at home. In work my Mum was a forthright decision maker, organised and focused on detail; management material. These qualities would have been quickly undermined if any of her employers witnessed her squabble with a four year old who just poured jam all over her baby sister to see if she would taste any better.

So for me it’s important the two remain separate. I have no doubt that my son will grow to be a productive member of the corporate world, but until it’s time for him to get his work experience, he will be staying home for now.

Working Mum’s Guilty Pleasure

working mom

I returned to work the last week in January, when my son was just 7 months old, and like every parent my feelings about it were mixed.

On one hand, I was delighted to be back in the corporate world. I have a good job which I enjoy. I don’t save lives or improve the environment, I don’t save whales or better mankind, but it is a useful job, and I am good at it. It brings me a sense of achievement and accomplishment. I get done what others struggle to do, and I do it with style. I’m not defined by it, but I like my job.

Then the other side of the coin swings around to punch me in the gut. As a new Mum, when I say those things out loud I think ‘that is selfish me talking’. That is me talking about what I need to feel like a happy human in the world, and really I should be thinking what my son needs to be a happy human in the world, and the guilt starts.

I feel guilty that I enjoy talking to adults, moving things along, helping on projects, more than I enjoy singing the Wheels on the Bus to my son for the hundredth time that week. I enjoy getting a lunch hour where I can walk the dog, listen to my podcast, chat to a friend or have some alone-time, and I feel guilty enjoying that time without him. I enjoy challenging my mind, stretching for solutions and I feel guilty because I know I was getting bored as a stay-at-home mom.

But is all this guilt fair? When I look at my son and ask – does he really miss me for the eight hours I am without him? Does he feel abandoned without his Mama around him 24/7? The answer comes back; probably not. In fact, as crushing as it is to admit, he seems totally happy without me.

Sometimes I’m a little put-out that he seems so happy without me! – but really it’s not surprising. He is a happy, healthy little wobbler. He is not a helpless newborn, I think I would feel very differently if he was, but he is at a stage where he is playing independently, is getting social with others, and so long as he has someone giving him love and attention, it really does not matter that it’s not his Mum.

So, because he seems happy as he ever did, I put the guilt in a box labelled ‘unhelpful feelings caused by outside pressure’ and allow myself be happy to be back at work.

I know this is not most people’s reaction to returning to work. Most people say that they hate being back away from their children. And for people who have to commute for long hours and for whom returning to work means that they will not see their baby awake during the week, I can understand how this separation is gut wrenching. But I think a lot of new Mums feel compelled to say they feel bad being back in work, because if they say they are delighted to be back it sounds like don’t enjoy motherhood, or worse, don’t love their baby as much as all the other mums who are distraught to be back.

Also, and I am going to say this plainly despite the controversy it might cause, but I also think a lot of women would rather not be in the corporate world. They have reached a stage in their life where they do not get a sense of fulfilment from their jobs, it is not where they want to be and they would rather be at home with their children. Unfortunately however they have bills to pay and they need to work, and so they do, but it is not where their heart is, and so this adds to the pain of leaving their children for the working day. Even if I could afford not to work, I think I would anyway. I do not think that is true of every woman (or indeed man) in the workplace.

Now, before I get a series of angry responses to this post, I want to raise one point: most Dads, if they are lucky, get two weeks paternity leave, and then they go back to work because someone has to pay the bills. Are they bad Dad’s for doing so? Aren’t they ‘leaving someone else to raise their kids’? Aren’t they ‘abandoning their children to baby-farms’? Most of people would say no, because they are leaving the baby with someone loving and safe while, as a responsible father, they are going out to the workplace to ensure they can provide the best possible for their family. So why is the same standard not applied to mothers?

Working Mums spend hours researching, interviewing, testing, comparing childcare options to find the best. Not just the ‘best for them’ (whatever that patronising phrase means), they find what they believe to be The. Best. Very few Mums (or Dad’s!) compromise when the safety or happiness of their children is in the offering. They go to work knowing that they have left their baby somewhere safe and loving (otherwise they would not leave them there), and now they are going to do their best in the workplace to ensure their family reap the rewards, just like the Dad’s. So why the double standard?

Grandma Knits For Baby – Setting Up a New Business

grandma Knits for Baby

In the olden days (let’s say 10 years ago) a fundamental requirement for opening a shop, was having a shop premises. That is no longer the case. Online shopping has increased in popularity, now accounting for 14% of all retail, and increasingly t is becoming the method of preference for certain groups of consumers. This matched with the advent of online market-places like ebay, etsy, folksy etc – means that online shops are now a very lucrative and viable option.

Set up costs are minimal. A potential entrepreneur has just to register a shop on one (or all) of these markets, a little like a person would have opened a stall in a flea-market before, and display their goods. Usually the market charges a very small amount to display an item and then takes a commission when the item is sold.

However, as a potential consumer cannot physically touch and feel the goods, the success of an online shop lies in their ability to photograph and describe the item. This replaces the meeting of the artist in the flea-market or craft fair. It replaces seeing their hard-working hands and hearing them talk passionately about their goods. All that would have been conveyed in that brief but vivid meeting has to be funnelled into a short text description. This has to paint a picture, give context to the item, give it a past, make it authentic, and allow it to stand out from the other similar items.

Not an easy task. However, one I attempted while setting up a shop for my Mum called Grandma Knits For Baby. She resisted this idea initially. She loves to knit for children, babies in particular, and will often knit for any baby, no matter how remote the connection, just because she can and she loves to. People have often remarked on the incredible quality of her jumpers and cardigans, but because Mam has been doing this for so long, she usually brushes off these compliments with a pinch of salt. She just doesn’t see the incredible skill that she has, and that tragically hand-knitting clothes is a dying art form, getting rarer in a fast high-tech world.

Grandma Knits For Baby

Grandma Knits For Baby is ultimately a two woman show. Mum brings the beauty (gorgeous hand-knit works of art) and I bring the brawn (I do the heavy lifting in terms of listing items, writing descriptions, handling customer queries and processing orders) – these creative types don’t love the administration of it all!!

So far it has worked very well. We have had a steady trickle of orders, and our brand is getting out there. Let’s see what happens when wooly-jumper season is back upon us.


About Grandma Knits For Baby

This shop was born from Grandma’s love of knitting little treats for little tykes.

Grandma is a talented experienced knitter who for the last 45 years has been knitting little garments for friends, family, neighbours, friends of the family, friends of friends … the list goes on, but really she knits for anyone in her life who has been blessed with a little miracle in their lives. This shop was born from her love of knitting little treats for little tykes, so that she can share, even just a little bit, in the immense joy and celebration a family feels when a new baby is brought home.

As a Grandma each piece she creates is as soft, delicate and cute as it’s intended recipient, however as a mother she knows that each piece must also be practical, easy to take on and off, easy to wash, easy to dry, warm and comfortable on little baby. It is her many years experience of caring for little babies that makes her creations so perfect.

Knitting is an ethnic craft and is part of the Irish heritage. It is a skill that has been handed down from generation to generation. The craft originated in fishing villages as the thick wools allowed fishermen to work in the water all day without catching chill, but anyone who knows Ireland in the wet damp winter months knows that one does not need to be near the sea to be wet all day in Ireland.

Traditionally knitting was a craft women practised and tradition has it that many of the stitches created had symbolic meanings that the women cast on their loved ones to bring them good fortune or protect against ill winds. Grandma takes a little of this folklore and knits it into her creations to wish the little ones happiness and safety in their first steps on the pathway of life.

Cathy Clarke – Shop Assistant

Cathy helps Grandma with admin, form filling, wool fetching, parcel posting and all the technical parts that Grandma couldn’t be havin’ with at her time of life. Cathy is the general dogsbody that keeps this ship a float!


Grandma – Creator

Grandma is the creative power behind this shop, without her skill, expertise and experience there would be no knits for the little babies.

Grandma Knits For Baby