Do We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers?

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‘Working Mom’ by Ran Zwigenberg. Photo used under CC license

Whenever there’s coverage of mothers in the workplace, it’s never long before the topic of how they cope with the competing needs of their children and their job comes up. What’s wrong with this? It’s a narrative that’s only ever applied to working mothers, and rarely – if ever – working fathers.

On the BBC series Inside the House of Commons this week, one of the featured MPs was a busy mum who juggles the demands of her job with the needs of her family. As the listings described the scenario: “Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott… seeks to balance new parenthood with politics.”

I am not denying Ms. Willott’s very real struggle between being a parent and an MP (and Deputy Chief Whip), but yet again, the search for this ‘balance’ was presented as an issue only for the working mother. While we did see the involvement of her partner, where was the male MP also struggling in the same way, having family dinners in his parliament office, dropping off his children at the House of Commons nursery, or leaving his crying child with an aide so he can dash off to the house for an important vote? Maybe he doesn’t exist. Maybe society’s expectations of working mothers are different from those of working fathers.

This was yet another example that feeds into the myth that when a mother is working, childcare is her responsibility. That the need for flexibility is the preserve of the working mother, not the father. That mothers struggle to maintain a work/life balance in a way that fathers don’t.

This week there was a report about the rising costs of childcare in the UK, which is indeed a big problem for parents. Yet I kept reading how this was an issue for working mothers or mothers returning to the workplace, never about fathers.

My wife has a full time job, and I freelance as well as being home with our daughter. In any discussions I enter into about work, the cost of childcare up at the top of the list when determining the feasibility of me taking on the job. The issues around flexible hours and an understanding that I may have to be absent when my child is sick are also important for my employer to know, because I am the primary caregiver to our daughter.

Why We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers

I don’t understand why are we always framing any discussion about childcare, flexible working, balancing the demands of home and work, with ‘Working Mothers’. These issues are not exclusive to mothers – they are parenting issues.

As a father, I find it depressing that people think dads don’t care this much about their children, that we too don’t lament the lost hours we could be spending with them when working. But as a parent of a daughter, I find the sexism of this prevailing attitude towards women in the workplace far more depressing.

It’s an attitude that is especially toxic when there are employers that would prefer not hire a mother, because they think that it’ll be too much hassle. It’s an attitude that fathers rarely encounter.

I am not seeking to diminish the emotional stress and logistical hassle of being a working mother. Despite not being a mother, I understand it completely.

I just think we need to stop talking about working mothers, and start talking about working parents instead. These are issues that affect us all and problems for us all to deal with.

What do you think about the way working mothers are perceived? Is being a working mother different than being a working father? Please get involved by commenting below, joining the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

Healthy Wholewheat Pancake Recipe (Not Just for Shrove Tuesday)

A few tweaks to the ingredients led to this healthy wholewheat pancake recipe. Well, it’s healthier at least, with wholewheat flour, semi-skimmed milk, etc.

We pretty much only eat pancakes on or around Pancake Day. I don’t know why we don’t have them more often, because I love them.

I know the vogue these days is for the thick American style  pancakes, but this is a basic pancake recipe for the thinner ones of my childhood – but not quite crepes, as they’re too fancy!

I think this pancake recipe was probably adapted from Delia’s, but it was so long ago I can’t remember.

Fillings? If you’re going to be ‘healthy’ then banana or blueberries with yoghurt is a good place to start. Unhealthy? Well the rest of my family enjoys the likes of ice cream, caramel sauce, Nutella, etc. But as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one way to serve a pancake – lemon juice and a sprinkle of brown sugar.

Healthy Wholewheat Pancake Recipe 

Makes approximately 16 pancakes

      • 250g wholemeal flour
      • Pinch of salt
      • 4 eggs
      • 568ml/pint semi-skimmed milk
      • 30ml Vegetable oil (optional), plus more for cooking
      • Brown sugar
      • Lemon juice
  1. Mix the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into it. Whisk the eggs into the flour, gradually pouring in the milk.
  2. When all the milk has been added, gradually add the oil if using, continuing to whisk until the batter is smooth, with the consistency of thin cream. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins.
  3. Allow 4 tblsp (60ml) of batter per pancake. Cook in pan over a medium heat, with a splash of oil for each pancake.
  4. Use a ladle so mixture can be poured into the hot pan in one go. As soon as the batter hits the hot pan, tip it around from side to side to get the base evenly coated with batter. It should take only half a minute or so
  5. Flip the pancake over with a pan slice or palette knife – the other side will need a few seconds only – then simply slide it out of the pan onto a plate. You can try and flip it in the pan if you’re feeling theatrical, but that way lies sorrow.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the first pancake will be crap” – Jane Austen (probably)

I recall that according to Delia, you should stack the pancakes as you make them between sheets of greaseproof paper on a plate fitted over simmering water, to keep them warm while you make the rest. But that all sounds a bit fussy to me, so I just stack them and microwave the lot when ready to serve.

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My healthy wholewheat pancake recipe being served with unhealthy ingredients!

Valentine’s Day is for Lovers and Retailers, Not Parents and Children

Valentine's Day, Valentine's Day card, Valentine's Day cards, Valentine's Day children.
(Photo by Shana, used under CC license)

I fear I’m in the minority, but I find a little girl giving her daddy a Valentine’s card a bit creepy.

This week playgroups, preschools, and nurseries across the globe were having their usual themed crafts, which in all likelihood involved making Valentine’s Day cards. I didn’t think much of it. I figured these cards would be given to the parent who wasn’t there, from their partner that was.

Contrary to my assumption, at the playgroups I went to, many children (well, only girls) were being encouraged by mothers to make cards for their fathers. The thought of getting a Valentine’s Day card from my daughter makes my skin crawl.

Valentine’s Day is one of two things. It is either a cynical marketing opportunity to sell themed cards, chocolates, lingerie, and even ready meals (‘Give your Valentine a night off cooking with a special Macaroni Cheese’). Or it’s a day to celebrate love with your partner, a partner to be, or just a good old fashioned secret admirer.

Valentine’s Day is a time for lovers, and a time for retailers to exploit that love. It is not a time for parents and children to express their very different love for each other.

There is an argument against children ‘celebrating’ Valentine’s Day because it’s asking them to grow up too soon. I don’t agree with that, as role playing adult scenarios is an important part of our children’s development. The desire for a partner, who is more than a friend, is an important concept for them to understand. It’s how they came to be after all.

I also remember getting cards as a child from secret admirers who I still have no idea about. It almost remains my purest experience of the day. Who’s heart wouldn’t be sent aflutter with a note from a secret admirer? Valentine’s Day is a day for love, but romantic love, which is to say that heady, intoxicating combination of love and desire.

Valentine’s Day is a time for lovers

Remember the song Somethin’ Stupid? It’s a catchy duet about someone lamenting their missed opportunity of getting a date into bed by saying Somethin’ Stupid’ (Like I Love You). If you’re younger than me, perhaps you know the Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman version. That was a fun rendition of a cute song.

However, it’s more famous for it’s frankly creepy version, which was a duet between Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy.

Have a listen.

It’s also fairly creepy when sung by Nancy Sinatra and her brother, Frank jr. Take a look.

It’s really NOT cute to have a father and daughter, or brother and sister, pretending to sing about a sexual attraction to each other. It’s gross. That’s why this song referred to as The Incest Song.

Every day, I tell my daughter that I love her. But that is not the same love I have for her mother, and I want her to understand there’s a difference. It’s not better, not lesser. Just different.

What do you think about getting a Valentine’s Day card from your child? Cute? Or creepy? Please comment below, join the conversation on my Facebook page, or tweet me @manvspink.

Labour’s Paternity Leave Policy: Is it even a step in the right direction?

Stay-at-home dad, bottle feeding, paternity leave,
Feeding my daughter during her first month

A Labour government will double paternity leave for dads from two to four weeks, and increase their weekly paternity pay to £260 – over £100 more than present. No doubt this move will be tagged as anti-business by Labour’s opponents. But is it as pro-family as it seems?

I was lucky that I spent the first 6 weeks home with my daughter. I can’t imagine not having spent that time with her, and I feel for other fathers who wanted the same but weren’t able to.

While this Labour policy may seem progressive, reflecting the reality that many fathers want to be at home with their newborn too, I feel what it’s really reinforcing is that after 4 weeks a man’s place is still at work while a woman’s is at home with the baby.

There are many reasons why fathers decide to become stay-at-home dads. In our case is was a combination of me really wanting to be home with our daughter; my wife’s desire to return to work and maintain her career; and a feeling that I might be better suited to being home all the time with an insatiable grub that lacks basic conversation skills. The fact that my wife also earned more than twice as much as me was not an obvious influence, but perhaps it made our decision easier.

What I think families need more than a simple increase in paternity pay and entitlement, is support to make these type of flexible decisions that are right for them, for there is no one size fits all way of parenting any more. While for some couples the mother being home full-time is what’s wanted, others (like us) would prefer have the dad home in those early years. Many couples would like to both be working as soon as possible. The financial hit would be harder on some rather than others, so that too would affect decisions.

Far more progressive is the Shared Parental Leave system that comes into force from April, where parents can share the majority of the mother’s 52 week leave entitlement between them, in theory letting the couple decide which one of them is to become the primary carer. One of the biggest stumbling blocks with this is that many women have generous maternity packages from their employer that are far in excess of the Statutory Shared Parental Pay of £138 per week.

I remain unconvinced about Labour’s proposal, though I am sure it will lead to more fathers taking time off to be with their newborn. The IPPR, who came up with these proposals, believe take up will increase from 55% to 70%. That sounds optimistic, but I guess we’ll see should we have a Labour government come May.

I believe that the level of pay is really a small part of the reason for the low numbers taking paternity leave. For parents who had no interest in the father being home, their feelings will remain unchanged. Many men feel that their employer would look unfavourably on them taking leave, that their job cannot be interrupted, or that it will hurt their career. They too will remain feeling the same way about paternity leave.

The policy seems rather outdated next to Shared Parental Leave in that it assumes the father will return to work after 4 weeks while the mother is home with the baby. If Labour really wanted to encourage more men to become stay-at-home dads, or women to become working mothers, then I think they should really be building upon the Shared Parental Leave system, perhaps finding a way for mums and dads to share an employers parental leave system.

So is Labour really trying to be progressive? I am reminded of the free childcare/early education for three year olds. The 15 hours of free childcare per week, notionally intended to encourage at-home parents back to work is now seen as more of a rebate to middle class families. They would be paying for the childcare at nurseries anyway but now get a term time fee reduction. I have a similar feeling about these proposals, that it’s intended to be a nice little financial present for those families who would have probably used paternity leave anyway.

This feels less about a policy helping families, than a headline to help persuade disaffected supporters to vote Labour in May. But at least a few more dads will get to spend time with their newborn like I did.

 

What do you think about these paternity leave proposals? Please get involved by commenting below, joining the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

Stanley Tucci’s Big Night Timpano recipe

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The Big Night Timpano recipe is not your usual baked pasta dish

You’re a foodie and a film fan who’s seen Big Night. You were wowed by the Timpano. You’ve wanted to make it ever since but find the idea of recreating Stanley Tucci’s Timpano recipe daunting. Intimidating. Don’t be silly.

The Big Night Timpano is just a pasta bake. The ultimate pasta bake. I had wanted to make this since I had seen the movie in the late 90’s.

As my daughter’s 1st birthday was approaching, and intended as more of a party for adults, this seemed as special occasion as any to finally get round to making this.

Also known as a Timballo, this Big Night Timpano recipe is based on a family recipe of co-star, co-writer, and co-director Stanley Tucci.

It is a dish that any foodie and/or film fan should make at least once in their life. Everything you need is likely available from your local butcher, deli, or supermarket – except, the 14″ Timpano Bowl. It’s the best thing for baking this in.

I had to order this enamel basin in from US Amazon, and it was perfect for this. timpano recipe, big night movie menu, big night timpano recipe, timballoTake your time with this dish. To get it right, I would give yourself two days.

Analyse this Stanley Tucci Timpano recipe. Spend a long afternoon shopping for ingredients. Make the sauce ahead of time. Prepare the eggs, cheese, and salami a day before. Early morning, boil the pasta and cool it ready for assembly. After baking let it rest. And rest.

A good hour will allow this settle nicely and let the treasure trove of flavours be absorbed by pasta inside. But don’t leave it to rest in the kitchen. Have it on display to your guests. Let the anticipation build about what delights await inside.

This is a dish that deserves to be eagerly anticipated, not least because of the effort you’ve put into it. As this ‘Big Night’ Timpano was adapted from Tucci’s American recipe, I’ve attempted to update the imperial measurements with metric ones. Also, confession time – I used meatballs made by the butcher. If you want to be REALLY authentic, you can use Stanley Tucci’s meatball recipe.

The Big Night Timpano recipe

RAGU

  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 450 g stewing beef, trimmed of fat and cut into pieces
  • 450 g spareribs (pref. meaty shoulder ribs), trimmed of fatmand cut in half Onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 20 ml red wine
  • 170 g can tomato paste
  • 2 x 1kg can plum tomatoes, sieved or blitzed in processor OR 2l passata (much easier!)
  • 3 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried

1. Warm olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown beef until coloured on all sides, about 10 minutes. Set aside in a bowl.
2. Add spareribs to pot and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside in bowl with beef. (If your pot is big enough to hold all the meat in a single layer, it can be cooked at the same time.)
3. Stir onions and garlic into pot. Reduce heat to low and cook until onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in wine, scraping bottom of the pot clean. Add tomato paste. Pour 125ml cup warm water into tomato paste can to loosen any residual paste and then pour into pot. Cook to warm the paste through, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes along with additional 250ml warm water. Stir in basil and oregano. Cover with lid partially on and simmer about 30 minutes.
4. Return meat to pot, along with any juices that accumulated in bowl. Cover partially with lid and simmer, stirring frequently, until meat is very tender and tomatoes are cooked, about 2 hours. Warm water may be added to sauce, in 125ml portions, if it becomes too thick.

DOUGH:

  • 450 gram 00 flour, more for dusting
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, more for greasing bowl Butter (for greasing bowl) Timpano case ready for filling

1. Mix flour, eggs, salt and olive oil in mixer bowl with a dough hook. Add 3 tbsp water and mix – add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture comes together and forms a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead to make sure it is well mixed, about 10 minutes. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes. (The dough may be made in advance and refrigerated overnight; return to room temperature before rolling out.)

2. Flatten dough on a lightly floured work surface. Dust top with flour and roll it out, dusting with flour and flipping the dough over from time to time, until it is about 1/16-inch thick and is the desired diameter. (To calculate the diameter for the dough round, add the diameter of the bottom of your timpano basin the diameter of the top of the pan and twice the height of the pan.)
Grease the baking pan generously with butter and olive oil. Fold dough in half and then in half again, to form a triangle, and place in pan. Open dough and arrange it in the pan, gently pressing it against the bottom and the sides, draping extra dough over the sides. Set aside.

FILLING:

  • 450 g thick Genoa salami pieces, cut into small squares
  • 450 gram sharp provolone cheese, evenly diced
  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and quartered lengthwise, each quarter cut in half
  • 450 gram small meatballs
  • 1.8 l Ragu sauce (meat removed and reserved for another use)
  • 1.4 kg ziti or similar pasta, cooked very al dente (about half the time recommended on the package)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 115 gram finely grated Pecorino Romano
  • 6 large eggs, beaten

1. Heat oven to 180c. Have salami, provolone, hard-boiled eggs, meatballs and ragù sauce at room temperature. Stir 125ml water into sauce to thin it. Toss pasta with olive oil and allow to cool slightly before tossing with 500ml sauce. Layering the Timpano IMG_5294 IMG_5295 Filled Timpano IMG_5297

2. Layering the filling: Distribute 4 generous cups of pasta on bottom of timpano. Top with 1 cup salami, 1 cup provolone, 3 eggs, 1 cup meatballs and 1/3 cup Romano cheese. Pour 2 cups sauce over ingredients. Repeat process to create additional layers until filling comes within 1 inch of the top of the pan, ending with 2 cups sauce. Pour beaten eggs over the filling.

3. Fold pasta dough over filling to seal completely. Trim away and discard any double layers of dough. Make sure timpano is tightly sealed. If you notice any small openings cut a piece of trimmed dough to fit over opening. Use a small amount of water to moisten these scraps of dough to ensure that a tight seal has been made.

4. Bake until lightly browned, about 1 hour. Cover with foil and continue baking until the timpano is cooked through and the dough is golden brown (and reaches an internal temperature of 120c), about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 30 or more minutes to allow timpano to cool and contract before attempting to remove from pan. The baked timpano should not stick to the pan.

To test, gently shake pan to the left and then to the right. It should slightly spin in the pan. If any part is still attached, carefully detach with a knife. The finished Big Night Timpano, stanley tucci, timbale, Stanley Tucci Timpano recipe

5. To remove timpano from pan, place a baking sheet or thin cutting board that covers the entire diameter on the pan on top of the timpano. Grasp the baking sheet or cutting board and the rim of the pan firmly and invert timpano. Remove pan and allow timpano to cool for at least 30 minutes. Using a long, sharp knife, cut a circle about 8cm in diameter in the center of the timpano, making sure to cut all the way through to the bottom. Then slice timpano as you would a pie into individual portions, leaving the center circle as a support for the remaining pieces. The cut pieces should hold together, revealing the layers of filling you built up earlier.

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For more great recipes from Stanley Tucci, check out The Tucci Cookbook: Family, Friends and Food (with the Timpano recipe) and his most recent book The Tucci Table: Cooking with Family and Friends.