Jan 292011
 

With a picky four-year-old who loves vegetables but won’t eat much else (she won’t touch pizza or sushi, for example), and an eleven-year-old who’s only slowly starting to appreciate vegetables and fruit (but loves both pizza and sushi, as a typical Vancouver kid does), mealtimes are often a struggle. On a whim a few months ago, I made fondue and discovered how pleasant a peaceful meal where everyone cheerfully eats what’s in front of them can be.

Cheese fondue the way we make it is simple, and reasonably healthy, as long as you have no lactose-intolerant or vegan people at the table. I slice up whatever vegetables and fruit are around, and everyone has some bread and lots of vegetables or fruit to dip into their cheese. There’s something about the communal dipping that’s attractive, the colours of the vegetables and fruit contrast with the creamy sauce that each piece is coated with, and nobody keeps track of just how much everyone eats.

Cheese fondue is laughably simple and quick to make. I make it in the fondue pot on the stove (we have a gas stove) so there’s less washing-up afterwards, and start to finish it takes about 15 minutes.

I always wash and slice the vegetables and fruit first. The staples on the table are an apple, some sugar snap peas, a bell pepper (capsicum) or two, some broccoli spears, some cherry tomatoes. If we have other vegetables or fruit that won’t fall off a fondue fork too easily, those go on the table too. A loaf of good hearty bread, or a crusty French baguette, are also de riguer.

The fondue itself has 400 – 500 g of grated cheese (about a pound) for four people. We like the classic gruyère and emmental (as well as a mixture). Brie is good too (cube it rather than grate it, and toss the rind as it won’t melt). Old cheddar is a little too sharp for some, a milder cheddar is better. After grating, toss the cheese with about 2 tablespoons of flour. Heat slightly more than a cup of white wine (something with some flavour that isn’t too sweet, such as riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris, or pinot blanc) in the fondue pot until it bubbles gently. Stir in the grated cheese + flour, stir until the cheese melts and the fondue is smooth and reasonably thick, serve.

We’ve tried lots of different combinations of cheese, wine, and vegetables. Experimenting is part of the fun.

Nov 262009
 

One of the unforeseen advantages of having an Amazon affiliate account is the positive loop it introduces. In this particular case, I reviewed books about raising children, people clicked on the links, they bought other books from Amazon that showed up in my reports, I looked at those books, etc. I call it a multi-level recommendation service; I’m sure there are more “official” names for it.

Anyway, in this particular case someone bought Parenting the Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Proven Five-Week Program for Parents of Two- to Six-Year-Olds, and since my daughter is strong-willed (much more so than her brother at that age), I thought I’d take a look. I also ordered When Your Child Has a Strong-Willed Personality from the library and read both the books at more or less the same time.

Parenthetical note: are there ever a lot of books out there on how to cope with strong-willed children!

Both the books have anecdotal/illustrative examples, which mostly served to make me grateful for my child. After that, the books have the same basic ideas at the core, but go about the message in different ways.

The “clinical program” book has an actual program in it that you’re meant to follow, which consists of spending 10 minutes each day doing the program for that week, before starting the next week on the next phase. This would probably be useful if there is a serious problem; condensing the program and combining steps worked out fine for us. The first step is simply paying attention to what the child is doing for those 10 minutes: no questions, no orders, just saying “now you’re stacking the red blocks” “now you’re colouring with blue crayon”. The “do you want to try…” etc comes later, after you and the child have got used to the idea of your paying attention to what the child is actually doing rather than what you think they should be doing, for that small amount of time. Personally I think this is the most important step – it’s so easy as a parent to get into the “now we have to do this”, even if it’s under the guise of encouraging the child to do things “properly”, and fail to take the time to pay attention to what’s really happening. The other steps in the program are also reasonable, nothing stupendously different to what other books say.

The “strong-willed personality” book is more general and does not come with a 5-week program, so is likely less reassuring if you have a serious problem. It points out strongly that the worst problems come with a strong-willed child and a strong-willed parent battling and advocates the parent to not quibble over small issues, but to seek ways to defuse potential situations, and let everyone save face.

Both books counsel kindness and respect for the child’s point of view as ways to defuse conflict, and give methods or tips to help. Variations on some of the techniques would probably also help with dealing with co-workers.

Dec 162008
 

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything was published a long time ago, way back in 2005, but it took my bookclub until this year to decide to read it. Hey, no point in being too fast, if a book is worthwhile it will still be worthwhile a couple of years later, right? In this case, it is. There is an updated version, but even the older version has a way of looking at the world that’s worth pondering. Wikipedia and the official book site have summaries, and there’s now a related blog.

The most famous part of the book is the one that asks how far the decrease in crime in the 1990s was due to the potential criminals never having been born; there has rightly been a lot of discussion about that (Wikipedia has a decent summary of some of the points). That discussion has tended to overshadow the other parts of the book, some of which bear more thinking about. One good example is the way that gangs were organised So how did the gang work? An awful lot like most American businesses, actually, which, if taken seriously by people trying to get rid of gangs, might lead to different ways of tackling them. The discussion about how the Ku Klux Klan was made ridiculous by incorporating it into the Superman radio show was good, even if who did exactly what when is unclear.

Above all, the book appeals if you’re someone who asks whether there are other explanations for things, past the seemingly obvious. Like the book says, conventional wisdom is often wrong, and it’s refreshing to read about some of the ways in which it is. Normally we don’t discuss non-fiction books for very long at bookclub, but this book was an exception. Most of our discussion was along the lines of “does it make sense that” or coming up with alternative hypotheses to explain some of their data. It would have helped if we’d seen some more of the actual mathematics so we could have been a little more sure of how they did the regression testing, but that’s a minor quibble and I’m sure most of the book’s audience didn’t miss it.

Dec 122008
 

Bangkok 8: A Novel, by John Burdett (his site, Wikipedia) was the latest bookclub read (yes, I know I’ve skipped a few in the middle, I got this one out of the library and it’s due back next week, which does concentrate the mind wonderfully). It’s probably not a book many of us would have picked, but all of us enjoyed it, which is rare, and for many of the same reasons.

It’s a detective story set in the prostitution area of Bangkok, with a hero (Sonchai Jitpleecheep) who is the child of a prostitute, a half-caste who doesn’t fit into Bangkok society for a number of reasons. The story itself was a little weird, with some weak spots, but Sonchai is interesting. I’ve only ever spent a few days in Bangkok, and that some time ago, but the author obviously noticed some of the same things I did and incorporated them very naturally into the story. This includes such things as the Thai belief in animism, as well as some cultural expectations that differ between foreigners (farang) and Thai.

There are lots of amusing passages, particularly when Sonchai is talking to and about an American woman who works for the FBI (so he calls her “the FBI”), and when he senses who or what various foreigners were in previous lives, which he generally does not bother to tell them, figuring that they wouldn’t believe him anyway (this is an example of how naturally those aspects are brought in, as in general Westerners don’t believe that you can look at a person and tell what they were in a previous life).

Overall it’s a good read and, if you have some familiarity with Thai animism and have heard of yaa baa, it isn’t too hard to understand what’s going on. Having visited Bangkok helps, but isn’t a prerequisite (fortunately).

Jul 242008
 

It seems that August is conference season, at least for me. More precisely, one week in August. First Balisage in Montréal (for which the online registration is closing next Friday) August 12-15, and then Vinocamp here in Vancouver, at the UBC Botanical Garden, on August 16th. I’m speaking at the former, and helping organise the latter (for which numbers are limited to 120, so don’t wait too long to register). The premise for Vinocamp is a friendly conference about wine, put on by a bunch of techies; this is its first year. Both conferences should be fun! Entertaining as well as educational, and a certain amount of good food and wine in both locations. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a week in August.

Jun 122008
 

My daughter is now two, and likes some different books to the set I reviewed six months ago, although she still likes the Boynton books and Mother, May I? by Grace Maccarone (I suspect because it has a picture of a truck in it, and features a hug at the end).

In no particular order, we have Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins and Eric Gurney, There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer, Dog In, Cat Out by Gillian Rubinstein and Ann James (lots of scope for making up stories about what’s happening in the pictures), Waves in the Bathtub by Eugenie Fernandes (make up your own music for the song, it will sound much better than the tune in the book), and Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough (ours is bundled with It’s the Bear!, which gets nearly equal billing in the toddler appreciation list). These are all books my son liked as well, so chances are good that other toddlers will enjoy them just as much. My son didn’t have Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett, but my daughter likes it.

And, of course, she also likes anything with a picture of a truck in it.

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