Library Summer Reads - Bear Boar by Michelle Robinson

We start with a firm favourite in the Bailey household, it’s a super quick, bear-based book that we found an ideal one for those stumbling between their first words and beyond! It’s Michelle Robinson’s ‘Bear Boar’.

It’s a brilliantly simple yet ever rewarding read, that develops with every new telling. It can last forty seconds or four minutes and we read it very differently now to our first time.

It’s a conversation starter, lots of comparable real life situations to draw from now for Little J as he impatiently waits for THAT page (no spoiler!) and then reconciles and reflects as teamwork and friendship saves the day (okay, spoiler).

Its seemingly simple story is mirrored in the delightfully stark, minimal primary colour palette and chunky illustrations by David Sim

We love the it. Plus, how funny is a hairy blue pig (no Daddy, not’s a pig!).

Little J and I first read it when he was about 15 months and it has never disappointed. My review is as short as the book itself, it’s brilliant. You should loan, buy, read a copy today...and tomorrow….and the next day.

Loving the Library

It’s somehow already the summer holidays, a time of ice creams, cloudy beach trips, endless episodes of Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, the Olympics, Snapchat filters and...oh yes, school holidays! Something that doesn't necessarily impact on me too much, just yet. Daycare closing for a week or two means hyper toddler and shattered Wife, much less traffic on the roads to and from work, tropical temperatures in the office and endless people walking into you in Cardiff Bay as they chase a Blastoise.

Early morning and evenings are however an ideal time to wind down the rampaging two year old with a mountain of books, so weekly library trips are a must. We have been blitzing through some great new reads, some old favourites and many, many...many books about bears. On a quick count at home we have fourteen books about bears...only just noticed! There's bearly (I went there) a shelf without three on in our house.

Perfect for sunny afternoons in the garden or wet weather reads huddled under a blanket I hope to include as many as possible over the next couple of weeks as we read, read and re-read them each and every day. Keep an eye out for our first read very soon!

David Bowie 1947-2016 - Outrageously Inspirational Always

Breaking news of the death of one of your heroes is always emotional but with David Bowie, whose music is a thread that intertwines my entire life, it was a truly universal sense of loss. He seems to have inspired everyone I know at some stage or another. My Facebook and Twitter are endless streams of his music videos, his lyrics and his iconic transformations that spanned six decades.

His songs are the soundtrack to some of my earliest memories, my childhood. I can so clearly hear ‘China Girl’ as I sit in the back of my Dad’s Toyota Celica in the late eighties. I still smile everytime I hear the line ‘just you shut your mouth’, I used to think it was so rude.

I have the clearest recollection of listening to ‘Rebel Rebel’ as my Dad drove me home from Beaver Scouts and played it so loud I thought my head would burst. The Lyrics to ‘Starman’, ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Jean Genie’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Queen Bitch’ and many others seem to live within me, like my family’s names or Birthdays, I just know them.

The first thing I did when I heard the news was text my Dad, the one whose sewn Bowie throughout my life. He is a huge Bowie fan, he was his childhood icon and hero. He will be very sad today too, probably unaware of how much of an impact Bowie’s music had on my childhood. How much I remember and how fondly. Next time we meet we will undoubtedly talk Bowie. I want to know what he was like live in the early days, when and where he went to see him, his favourite album. I can’t not listen to Bowie back to back today, tomorrow, all month..I could easily be back in the Celica or kneeling up against my parents HiFi with ‘Ashes to Ashes’ on repeat.

Growing up, every time I saw him he looked different, even more amazing and interesting. He could change his persona, escape to become someone else, innovate, reinvent himself seemingly so naturally. I was in awe. I loved the idea of this almost magical man who could change in an instant, like a chameleon.

I watched ‘Labyrinth’ for the first time with a babysitter when I must have been 4 or 5 and it terrified me. I hid it but the kidnapping, the grasping hands, the Fireys, even Ludo all all set me on edge and did for many years afterwards. Yet, I would still watch it time and time again and  what I remember most vividly, was it being the first time I had ever felt excited by feeling scared. The Goblin King didn’t scare me, in fact, in reflection it was probably more of a crush than being afraid of him. It will be interesting to watch with my young son to gauge how well it has dated. I haven't seen it in many years. Is it still as terrifying? Will he laugh at the Goblin King? Bowie was incredible in it, seemingly as awkward as he was brilliant but it only adds to the film.

Discovering the lesser played Bowie songs for the first time felt incredible, like I had been let in on a secret. I had only really played my favourites for many years and it wasn’t until I went to University when I bought ‘Scary Monsters...and Super Creeps’ did I realise there was so much more. Over the next five years I had consumed everything, day in day out, seeming to find a new favourite song each day. ‘Golden Years’, ‘Fashion’, ‘Moonage Daydream’, ‘Kooks’, ‘Shake It’, ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ ‘Young Americans’, ‘Oh You Pretty Things’.  I blasted out his albums for all waking hours of the day for months on end. It was the perfect music to wake up to, work to and wind down to.

Whilst he didn’t play at the opening, for me, he was the soundtrack to the London 2012 Olympics with ‘Heroes’, making a nation prouder than ever before. The escapism and national pride the Olympics offered was great. Everybody seemed that little bit happier and it was all along to the lyrics ‘we can beat them, just for one day’. Our troubles and problems, not just our opponents. Since then his most recent work is as intriguing and anticipated as always. I eagerly awaited ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ video as it was directed by the utterly incredible Floria Sigismondi and it did not disappoint. His latest album Blackstar will be a strange listen now so close to his passing but it feels knowing. It’s dark and melancholic and will be like Marmite to most people but it is a powerful farewell.

Despite my earlier comment about seemingly knowing some of Bowie’s lyrics off by heart, I am not normally one to remember lyrics. Just ask anyone in my family. On Sunday, a day before the sad news broke, as we made a den out of a duvet and pillows, my young son and I had ‘Diamond Dogs’ on in the background. I caught the opening lyrics of ‘We are the Dead’ for the first time and then dismissed and returned to destroying and rebuilding our den. “Something kind of hit me today, I looked at you and wondered if you saw things my way”. No matter how many times I have heard that song I had never picked up on the opening lines. I am still discovering old Bowie now, well over two decades after first hearing them.

I am someone whose memories are nearly always closely connected to songs, I have done this from my very early childhood through to today and I am sure I always will. Bowie’s work is such an integral part of my memory, I cannot imagine a world without Bowie’s music and he leaves behind him a legacy of outrageously and incomparable imagination and creativity.

January 11th 2016 is a sad day. The world that little bit less colourful and imaginative. Dream wildly Bowie, you will be ever sorely missed.

Chai food recipes - Some suggestions to compliment your cup of chai

Rounding off my recent spree of chai posts, is a look at my favourite alternative and food chai recipes and products.

With Halloween gone by but pumpkins readily available to most, I can’t recommend Stash Tea’s Chai-Iced Pumpkin Cookies enough. They are utterly delicious and I highly suggest making a huge batch of the chai icing and smothering over anything and everything. Ice cream, porridge, rice pudding, a brioche or any plain pastry for that matter.

Chai Ginger Ice Cream Sandwiches - I must say Minimalist Baker, these look outrageous! Even though summer has been and gone, these would make a perfect autumn ice cream treat for a blustery day.

Chocolate Chai Pots de Creme - Oh my word. Nothing more needs to be said about these treats from the fabulous Sugar Hero, the title says it all!

Frosted Chai Snickerdoodles - Sally’s Baking Addiction - I have yet to have the pleasure of trying a snickerdoodle...but not for much longer. These with a piping hot cup of my favourite homemade chai are on the agenda for next weekend!

Masala Chai Banana Bread - Recently spotted in the Guardian, this recipe was made for me! Ok maybe not but I do love a good banana bread and this looks and I’m sure will taste incredible. Check out Selma’s Table for many other (non-chai) related recipes too!

This Chai Tea Milk Chocolate by Sue Gilmour is beautifully moreish, you simply must buy a bar...or eight if you can find a stockist. Also great crumbled over a creamy vanilla ice cream.

Recently spotted in Nigella’s new book ‘Simply Nigella’, I will definitely have to give these a try. I’m sure she won’t mind me swapping out the teabags for my favourite homemade chai!

Jamie Oliver’s Chai Martinis - Chai and brandy? What isn’t to like? The perfect winter cocktail.

I openly admit to having not tried all of these delicious sounding recipes just yet but will be doing so over the next few weeks. I will keep you updated with my recommendations and if I find any more. Any others that you can recommend please do let me know!

My personal favourite spicy masala chai recipe - You've got to chai this!

Following up from my previous post ‘Oh you teas! - Which chai to choose?’ I promised I would share my beloved tried and tested spicy masala chai recipe, so here it is!

Take the following ingredients and grind them up, I use a stone pestle and mortar (mainly because it’s great fun!) but a coffee or spice grinder work just as well. Failing that, crush with the back of a spoon!

½ tsp fresh ginger (grate before grinding for smoothest results)
4 whole cloves (or use ½ tsp of fennel seeds if you prefer, or both if you're feeling audacious!)
½ tsp freshly ground black peppercorns
4 cardamom pods, bruised first (give them a bash)
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces (but not too small) or use ½ tsp powdered cinnamon
¼ tsp of nutmeg (grated or powdered)

Scoop this mixture into a saucepan and add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Then add 2 cups of whole milk and add 2 tsp of sugar or honey. I prefer honey but brown sugar also tastes great. Bring to the boil once more.

Then remove from the heat and add 2 tbsp loose black tea, I tend to go for Assam. Cover and let steep for 4-5 minutes (I like it quite strong). Strain directly into the cups or a teapot if using one and serve!

Personally, I use a nice strong Assam as my base because it has a powerful, malty flavour and adding a cheeky pinch of nutmeg really does finish it off. There is nothing complicated about making it and all ingredients are easy to get hold of. It's a pretty traditional recipe and easily adaptable but if I have to offer one element NOT to change it would be using whole milk, you simply have to. Go on treat yourself, even semi-skimmed doesn’t quite do it justice.

For all chai wallahs wanting some extra flourish, you can buy many amazing chai glasses and caddies sets. I bought these wonderful chai glasses recently at a bargain price and they always get a good reception. Even if I find myself drinking more because the glasses are a touch small!

There are a wealth of other great masala chai recipes out there and it is always good to experiment to make it just right for your taste. If you try my version and love it or you adapt it to even greater things, I would love to hear from you.

Coming soon - More and more I am seeing chai related food on menus and blogs too, which further fuels my love of chai. Keep an eye out for my next blog post, all about chai food!

Oh you teas! - Which chai to choose?

I love a good spicy masala chai, it might possibly be the greatest thing on Earth...well almost. I simply cannot drink enough, trust me I have tried. I often ponder the blood to chai ratio in my body.

There's nothing quite like making your own and I have tried and tested a good few recipes and have honed it down to a favourite recipe, which I will share in a blog post very soon!

If I am out and about I will always opt for one and whilst most cafes and restaurants now have it on the drinks menu, they tend to be tea bags. They can be hit and miss but there are a few stand out ones for me.

Palanquin Spiced Tea is definitely one of the best. It’s strong, spicy and you get a good undertone kick of black pepper. Just open the box and embrace the strong hit of spice! Highly recommended. Got to give it three minutes plus brew time for a perfect cup. I can quite easily drink my way through a box in just over a week.

Teapigs do a great chai too, I find it needs a good 5-6 minutes of brew time to get the flavour out but not far behind Palanquin. They are a more expensive option but worth buying if you see on offer or make a good present for a tea lover.

Others that I recommend are Tea India - Masala/Cardamon chai tea bags, Twinings and Yogi Tea also do a fine chai tea bag.

As for supermarkets, I have pretty much tried them all. Tesco just sneak it, their Finest* ‘Fragrant & Spicy Chai’ is an ideal everyday chai tea bag. Whilst it doesn’t have the intense flavour of a Palanquin it does taste really good, provided you can keep the tea bags as airtight as possible. Within a fortnight or so of opening a packet, that beautiful strong smell diminishes quite quickly.

There are a lot of chai latte powders doing the rounds now too. These are definitely more hit and miss. Some barely taste of anything whilst others can be overpowering.

Drink Me Chai Latte Spiced is a great one, in fact, when made properly it is truly delicious. All about the powder to milk ratio. It takes a good few tries to get it right.

Krüger also make a tasty chai latte (sachets), whilst I haven't tried the 'Classic India' the 'Fresh India' are really nice. A little too perfumed for my taste but they’re definitely worth a try.

Spicy Chai Latte - Barú - With little chocolate nibbles hidden inside! Something of a novelty, but a delicious one. I bought some in Galeries Lafayette in Paris but I have seen it in the UK since.

Should you be lucky enough to have time on your hands then I highly recommend making your own chai. It is surprisingly quick to make and tastes infinitely better than the shop bought tea bags. Keep you eyes peeled for another blog coming soon where I share my favourite chai recipe.

If you have any other favourites or recommendations that aren't on this list please do share them with me.

A Time of Change

Whilst reading to Little J one morning this week it was obvious something had changed. Much like with his dizzy woodpecker page anticipation in Peck, Peck, Peck, his excitement has now become impatience.

As the reader this is becoming trickier to handle. He wants to get to that page sooner, now! Reading quicker is no longer an option. Many twists and turns, plot lines and big reveals will be missed. Doesn't he realise I am missing out on essential storytelling! The payoff never hitting the mark. Ok, so something of a selfish over exaggeration but in all seriousness, our story time has become disjointed.

What this does though, is make storytelling more interesting. The laziness of formulaic story reading now not an option. Who needs to read page by page anyway? I now know I have less time to read the story so memorising and quick thinking are key. Whilst keeping the story the same, it has become more unpredictable. New stories emerge and with Little J's input we might now get lions, planes, bananas, the moon and Mummy cropping up in them more frequently.

Whilst this is a new thing, it won't last. Every book still ends with squeals of 'more' and we usually re-read most books instantly. The tricky thing is remembering what story you have just told and whether or not to deviate, throw something new in there? Whether Little J will tolerate this we will see!

It is amazing to see his character developing so quickly and I am intrigued to see what turn our reading will take next.

Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights

Having purposefully left it out of my Summer Reads blog post because it simply merited its own blog post, Steven Lenton’s ‘Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights’ is another cracking read and visual delight from Steven and publishers Nosy Crow.

It is a fantastic twist on the age old fairy tale stereotype, a mettlesome Princess outsmarting and out-braving ridiculous knights to save the day. As with all of Steven’s work each page turn is a pleasure and his sumptuous design style was made for stories like this. I was sold on the title before even seeing the cover.

At a time when pink vs blue is at the forefront of most discussions about books, toys, clothes (especially the packaging they come in) and almost everything in-between, this book shouldn’t be judged by the colour of the cover. Many young girls do want pink things and to read stories about princesses. Whilst it’s right to be addressed (there are many glittery, eye bursting neon pink books/magazines with free dayglow bracelets, earring wearing unicorns wearing tutu’s and perfect toothed, fake tan 10 years olds beaming back with ‘buy this sports drink’ eyes) it shouldn’t be a witch hunt to put an end to the colour pink as we know it.

It is about putting toys, clothes, books on the shelf that have a positive message, have aspirational characters, show that the colour of the cover isn’t what defines a purchase. ‘Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights’ is a wonderful example of this, it is a marvellous story with a great message and will undoubtedly inspire more little heroes like Daisy.

Don’t see this as a pink book for princess wannabes, if the cover was yellow, purple, green or hell, even BLUE, it would have no reflection on the engaging and aspiring story and characters and that is what matters. A recent article on the Guardian about picture book pink stereotyping of young female readers, highlights a number of books to inspire young readers whether they dream of being a Princess or not. You can read the article here 'Picture books that draw the line against pink stereotypes of girls'

Steven’s book is featured in the article alongside an almighty list of books that would and do feature on many ‘best of’s’ and award winning book lists. From the moment you open the book, the luscious illustrations bleed infinitely off the page, surrounding you almost, as you read. If you were a fan of ‘Shifty McGifty’ then this is a must for you too. Get yourself a copy from your favourite book seller or library now!

'Girls are clever, tough and bold
and brave and strong and true.
We’re just as good as boys, you know.
We can be heroes, too.'

Not only are we huge fans (Little J loves a dragon!) but it also appears Sophie Hawkins from the recent Channel 4 series ‘Humans’ is too!