Saturday, 27 November 2010

Dyslexia – go to it Gove – get 'em reading.

Reading should not only inform, it should be a pleasure. Can you imagine what it must be like as a young child to know that everybody else has cracked this thing called Reading and you just can't get it?

Can you imagine what it would be like as an adult not to read a novel for pleasure, a document for information, a safety notice? Not to get a job? Ask anyone who is severely dyslexic and they will most probably not tell you. Imagine why. Throughout their school life they will have been labelled lazy, stupid or simply slow.

If an obviously inquisitive, intelligent child who has been having regular lessons cannot read up to the level of his 'reading age' by the time he is seven years old then there is a reason. He is inquisitive and intelligent – he should have a reading age two years above his chronological age (weird way to assess these things, I know, but who are we?)

Talking this week about those children who are well behind in their reading, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is quite right when he says "more of the same type of teaching will not be of use to them". For a dyslexic child in particular, a remedial teacher is not suitable – these kids are bright and their specific word blindness needs a specialist teacher.

They (and all those having problems) need to be assessed by a specialist. Teachers are not trained to do so. A dyslexic child (or adult) needs a reading and writing programme especially designed for them. The extra lessons they need are usually carried out in small groups lasting about 45 minutes. Depending on the severity of their dyslexia they may need one or two lessons a week, for a couple of years.

After this, most of these children should be well above their reading age in a couple of years. Once they are reading fluently every subject is available to them. Given this sort of help from an early age, these children should go on to be above average performers reaching university standard.

Many will choose sciences or engineering (which involve less prose!) and their different way of interpreting information can result in particularly creative academics. Think of those who were labelled dumb – the mathematical genius and physicist, Albert Einstein; the electrical scientist, Thomas Edison, who was terrible at maths; Paul McCready, the aeronautical engineer: just the sort technical talent that this country is crying out for!

But given no help, most will be frustrated, many will become withdrawn or resigned, some disruptive and a few will, without qualifications, use their wits to nefarious ends.

And those who do not shine at something to get them through – perhaps mathematics or sports – will probably suffer from low-self esteem. Not to identify those who need help to learn to read, is not only a waste of intelligence and a loss to our talent pool, but a shame on our school system. So, Go to it Gove!


Friday, 12 November 2010

Pumpkin Soup

When the North Wind Doth Blow, that is just the time for hot warming soup. Only last week I was drooling over some Apple Cake on Carla's website and it has occurred to me that I could share some of my grandmother's recipes on mine. Being South African, pumpkin featured in her cooking quite regularly.

Last week-end, after the bonfire and fireworks, family and a couple of friends came back to enjoy a kitchen supper of pumpkin soup, cheese and lovely granary bread. The great thing about this soup is that it can be made in advance, and even frozen.

Now I must explain something about my cooking: I love food but I don't love spending hours making it. So I plan in advance how to make it the easiest, quickest way possible: that means I cheat and take short cuts. But only if I can get the desired effect.

Pumpkin soup is easy but it is also time consuming. And peeling a pumpkin is a pain. Most recipes suggest boiling it but baking gives a much richer flavour and is easier. Firstly, you don't have to peel it (yet) and, secondly, you don't have to hover over the stove.

Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes and you can equally use butternut squash or any orange fleshed variety. The recipe can also be adapted for other starchy root veg such as carrots, parsnips or swede.

Ingredients: 2kg pumpkin; 2 large onions; 2 good quality chicken or vegetable stock cubes. 2 x 284mil/10floz cream or milk. Halve this amount if you only want to make enough for 4 or 6 people.

A. Chop a large pumpkin (about 2 kg) into sections, and again into smaller, even sized wedges, each side about four inches (10 cm x 10cm).

Rub a non-stick roasting pan with olive oil, and rub the cut sides of the pumpkin pieces too. Then lay them in the pan and drizzle another little bit of oil over them. Bake for about an hour at 180 degrees. Turn them once half way through if you can be bothered. Now stick your feet up and read for half-an-hour.

B. Peel and chop 2 large onions finely and put in a lidded container with a big blob of salted butter and microwave for 5 minutes at 600 watts. It's a great method because you don't have any onion smell to speak of! Check it, and cook another few minutes if necessary. They should be soft and translucent.

Take out the pumpkin and cool slightly - the flesh should be soft but not squishy. Meanwhile, boil the kettle and make 750-800 ml chicken or vegetable stock using a good tasty variety of cubes, like Knorr, according to the instructions. Now you should be able to cut the peel off the cool pumpkin very easily.

C.In the blender put a couple of pieces pumpkin, a large scoop of onions and a splosh of stock and liquidize. Empty into a large saucepan and repeat. Add lots of grated pepper (but no salt as the stock cube and butter will have enough) and some freshly grated nutmeg.

If there are less than eight of you, divide the mixture in two and box one for the freezer. Result: one ready cooked meal for the next time you are in a hurry but want to impress with a lovingly made home-made soup!

Your soup is actually cooked when you think about it, but warm it through and the flavours will blend. Before serving (or after defrosting) add 284ml/10 fluid ounces double cream. If you are cooking the whole amount then you can also add 284ml/10 fluid ounces single cream. Yes, I know, but.....I never said it was low fat! If fat is a complete no-no use more stock instead of cream, or use semi-skimmed milk, but it won't have that unctuous, rich creaminess (nor the calories of course!). Serve with croutons and garnish with coriander leaves, parsley or green pumpkin seeds.

So there you are: as easy as ABC. This is the basic recipe but there are variations: 2-4 tablespoons of sherry added at the last minute should keep the boozy cooks happy. Those who love spices can rub the pumpkin pieces with ground cumin and coriander before baking or add cinnamon and nutmeg to the onion before liquidizing. Enjoy!


PS for gardeners: when you take out the pumpkin seeds, pull off the flesh, dry and keep the seeds to plant next year!