This week, I’d like to welcome chef, author, food writer, and National Trust food ambassador Claire Thomson to Frida be Mighty. Claire’s gorgeous cookery books have played a huge role in feeding my family; when Frida was a baby and I was barely sleeping, I had no energy to think of healthy, easy meals. Cooking, which I had always loved, suddenly felt like a chore. But Claire’s books made thinking about food fun again, and eased me back into cooking delicious meals with ease. I am so happy to have Claire as our inaugural interviewee, and I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I do…
I am delighted to be sharing this new interview series with you, where I will be talking to a different woman every fortnight about parenting, motherhood, their daily rhythm and what makes a beautiful childhood. So without further ado, let’s meet the mother…
Can you introduce yourself and your family?
I’m Claire Thomson, chef and food writer. I studied Journalism, Film and Broadcasting at University, then cooked my way around the world whilst putting off using my degree! I’ve got three children under ten and they all work very hard as recipe testers.
Do you have a daily rhythm? What do your days look like?
School mornings are a blur of porridge and packed lunches, a quick swim for me when I’ve dropped the kids and back at my desk for 10 am to start writing. My desk is very near my kitchen; the two spaces are interchangeable in my working week. Weekends involve spending time with my children, we will invariably cook together, with Grace (10 years old) increasingly tackling recipes on her own.
Are there any philosophies or books which have influenced your approach to parenting?
Again, crucial to my home life is good food. I want my three girls to grow up with a happy and healthy relationship to food. I want for them to find excitement in the food we eat and for ingredients to unlock a sense of travel and a where in the world shall we go type adventure. I am adamant that food is just food and we all need to eat, I don’t think mealtimes should have some rarified special feeling to them. We all sit together and eat the same thing. There is and never has been a meal I’ve cooked that I wouldn’t want to eat myself! Kid’s food is an anathema to me and my thinking on food and cooking.
I love your books so much; your recipes have formed a real staple of my cooking since I discovered them. Can you tell me a bit about what sparked your love of cooking?
My mum is a great cook and has a lovely vegetable garden in Shropshire. Leaving home for uni, I soon realised I was the one in the house that could cook well and this (hurrah!) got me out of most of the cleaning and sorting of bills. From uni i took off and cooked in Sydney, NZ, China and Thailand. The arrival of children made me feel emboldened as ever to not find teatime reprieve in fish fingers and baked beans but in good wholesome and thrifty food cooked from scratch that I would want to eat with them or with my husband with a glass of wine when we’d finally got the kids to bed. This feeling has continued, though bedtimes have slipped a little as the kids have got older. I firmly believe food is just food and that children are a curious bunch and, given time and a sense of wonder at the world and all the different the ingredients and cuisines the planet has to offer, children will want to taste and explore what is in front of them. My four year old would eat an egg for every mealtime, but this isn’t going to happen and given time, she’ll be like her big sister who eats most things (a vegetarian who eats salami).
I would love to know if you have any tips for parents who want to involve their children in cooking but aren’t sure where to start?
Herbs. Tangible, flavourful, and always good to smell. Picking herbs is an easy first activity in the kitchen. That and things like beating eggs for an omelette. I’ve cooked with all my girls from an early age and they all love spending time in the kitchen with me.
Which aspects of parenting bring you the most joy?
Being a parent is a complete joy. Frustrating at times absolutely, but I couldn’t pin point one aspect over any other in terms of joy. The whole thing together is so colossal, emotional, enriching, exhausting and wonderful I can’t imagine my life without them.
Which parts of motherhood do you find challenging?
There have certainly been moments where I have wanted all three in bed and asleep by 7pm, and this hasn’t happened! Most challenging I suppose is the responsibility of knowing that you are in part responsible for shaping this growing human into an adult to stand on their own two feet in the world. It’s not so much challenging, more terrifying and daunting at times.
How do you make time for self-care, and what does that look like for you?
I swim for 30 minutes most mornings after I’ve dropped the kids at school. The pool is right next to school. Sounds grand, really isn’t. Also means I can leave the house in a blur with all three kids already for school (spellings practised, packed lunch, PE kits etc) and swim and shower at the pool. I’m back at my desk for 10am looking (a bit more!) normal.
What do you think makes for a beautiful childhood?
Freedom. Swimming in the sea and windy walks on pebbly beaches. I’d love to take my three to Africa one day (I was born and grew up there until eight), likewise India, pretty much the whole world in truth. So travel, definitely more travel would make for a childhood full to bursting with wonder.
If you could share one insight or piece of advice with other mothers, what would it be?
Food is not a battleground. We all need to eat and tomorrow is another day. My kids aren’t saints and I’m no dragon, there are dishes and days that just haven’t worked out for one or other of us, but we all need to eat, there will always be something in a dish that I’ve cooked that they will want to eat. Where one hates tomatoes and the other mushrooms, chop them big enough to fish them out for example, flavours permeate and tastebuds chase, you’ll get there in the end eventually. That, and I’ve never taught a child in school (and I’ve done this a fair bit) who hasn’t been excited and engaged with the food in front of them if you’ve got them involved from the off. Children will generally eat if they’re hungry and I think regular snacking throughout the day impacts a child’s appetite and desire to eat.
Finally, what is your favourite children’s book?
I’m pretty keen on The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl, but there are numerous books, too many to count. I’m currently reading Wonder with my 10 year old, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child with my eight year old, and umpteen gorgeous glorious library bedtime books with my five year old.
Thank you so much, Claire!
You can find Claire on Instagram here and on Twitter here, and read her recipes for the Guardian here. Her brilliant books The Five O’Clock Apron, National Trust Family Cookbook , and The Art of the Larder are available on Amazon and in all good book shops (and I hugely recommend them!) Oh and do check out her website 5 O’Clock Apron.